Perhaps the most visually distinctive feature of the BBC Micro is the row of red function keys on the keyboard. I don't know who came up with that.

I could swear I read somewhere that the BBC asked for a distinctive red color, not on the function keys, but on the Enter key, but I cannot find any reference to that now, and I can't rule out the possibility that I was misreading it.

Did the BBC ask for any unusual key colors?

2 Answers 2


From a previous question:

What BBC Microcomputer features were requested specifically by BBC engineers?

which references this BBC document:

  • both pound sign and number symbol (hash) must be included ... the RETURN key will be a different colour from the rest;

But that actually:

and certain that the return key ended up being the same colour as all the other keys

and in a comment:

Interesting that the specification requests specifically the return key be a different colour; the eventual BBC micro keyboard did of course have multiple colours on its keyboard, but return was just plain black along with the majority of keys (the function keys and arrow keys being different colours)

  • 2
    Although not quite what you did ask I do want ( if it is OK ) to mention some of the Archimedes units had green function keys although if memory serves this was limited to " Learning Curve " models primarily.
    – AndyF
    Jan 6, 2020 at 21:28
  • 3
    The color keys on the archimedies range did actually have a purpose. The RED ones like their counterparts on the BBC Micro, signified the machine was intended fro educational use. The ones with green keys such as the A3010 where intended for home use, and the ones with grey or plain keys, such as the A5000 where there to signify that line of machines was intended for serious/business/office use.
    – shawty
    May 29, 2020 at 15:36

There exists a copy of some draft requirements that the BBC had for the new machine. At the time, these had already been hashed out a bit with Acorn, so they match quite well with the resulting BBC Micro. A relevant extract:

Keyboard: capable of generating all 128 ASCII codes.
Positive action keys (not touch sensitive).
ISO standard layout plus:
(a) Up/down/left/right cursor control
(b) A row of keys, above the numbers, which generate software definable codes - this could be done with a software look-up table to map the original codes to new values.

There is no mention here of keycap colours. On the actual machine, the cursor editing keys (four arrows and COPY) are olive green, the ten function keys are red, and the rest are black.

The result is instantly recognisable, but most likely arose from ergonomic considerations at a relatively late stage of design.

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