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  Obituary - Professor Ian D. Rattee, OBE, BSc., C.Chem., FRSC



Professor Ian D. Rattee, OBE, BSc., C.Chem., FRSC

Co-Inventor of Procion Dyes


Ian Durham Rattee, died on Friday 15 May 2015 in Harrogate District Hospital, North Yorkshire. He was 89 years old and although of late had suffered declining health he steadfastly maintained an active lifestyle.


In 1953 working as a Technical Officer with Imperial Chemical Industries Dyestuffs Division in Blackley, Manchester he discovered the chemical reactions which lead to the introduction of the world’s first practical system for colouring cotton, viscose and related cellulosic materials with “reactive” dyestuffs. This lead to the introduction in 1956 of the Procion dyes and the subsequent appearance of an entirely new dyestuff class. It was for this work that he and Dr. W.E. Stephen were each awarded the Gold Medal of the Society of Dyers and Colourists (SDC).


This invention revolutionised the coloration of textiles which previously had been notorious for loss of colour when washed. The direct consequence of the invention was to facilitate the production and industrial use of the bright wash fast colours that underpinned British fashion design in the 1960’s and beyond. 


In 1970 the importance of the invention of the Procion reactive dyes was further recognised by the SDC with the rarely awarded prestigious Perkin Medal, named after Sir William Perkin. Recognition also came from other countries and in 2000 IDR received the Henry E. Millson Award for Invention from the American Association of Textile Chemists & Colorists.


In 2009 on the occasion of his 50 years as an SDC member it was noted that he had published numerous papers and patents and was renowned throughout the world as one of the foremost experts in this field.


By 1962 he was already credited with 25 patents in the UK, USA and France, relating to reactive dyes and new dyeing processes. His work on inventing dyes, printing inks and a new transfer printing process continued for the next 20 years.


IDR was born in Sydenham, London on 24 March 1926 the son of Stanley George Rattee (Editor of the Electrical Journal) and Josephine Mary McArthur Forbes Buckingham. He grew up in Wallington, Surrey and was educated at Purley County Grammar School and at Imperial College of Science & Technology, London. He studied Chemistry on the wartime two year degree course and at the age of 19 graduated with a BSc. (Hons).  After Imperial College Ian started his first career in industry in Manchester as a chemistry research scientist, initially with Proctor & Gamble and then at Imperial Chemical Industries.




In 1962 at the age of 36, he left ICI when he was appointed by Leeds University to the role of Professor and Head of the Department of Colour Chemistry which he occupied for over 20 years until retirement from academia.


At the request of the United Nations and the British Council, Professor Rattee visited universities and industrialists in China, India, and Iraq, as an advisor on textile coloration.


Professor Rattee’s other interests included the theatre, foreign travel and languages and he spoke German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Russian. Along with science his consuming passion was the performing arts. Once asked what he would have liked to have been if not a scientist he said, a film director.


For 20 years he was a lynch pin of the Manchester Unity Theatre, as secretary to the group, an actor, producer and director of plays and designer and builder of sets. Then from the 1960’s an active member of the Leeds Proscenium Players and latterly the Harrogate Dramatic Society where he was Chairman from 2010 to 2013. An actor of some note he also translated a play from French and produced an English adaptation of a Russian play for performance on the stage in Harrogate. His acting career spanned over 60 years and entertained hundreds of audiences.


He was also an entertaining raconteur and with prompting would recount interesting events from his life. During World War Two, when he was 16 and due to his chemistry teacher joining the army his class were mainly unsupervised and so taught themselves working from text books. The 6 pupils conducted experiments in practical chemistry and learned by trial and error. They found out how to make flash powder, thermite for incendiary bombs, coloured smokes and an enormous range of things which should have been barred to schoolboys, even in the 1940’s. Ian and a friend prepared a mixture of materials with the intention of igniting the compound in the school playground where the school army corps were drilling. Unfortunately they were less competent in the deployment of this device and when the smoke bomb failed to go off Ian lit it a second time and it exploded in his face resulting in him and his friend being hospitalised with severe burns. He recalled that it being wartime no one was particularly disturbed by this alarming escapade and that some actually considered his action “heroic” if somewhat foolish, whereas today they would probably have been arrested.


However it is for his invention of the first Procion Dyes that Ian Rattee will deservedly be remembered since it has directly impacted on the lives of everyone who has ever worn clothing coloured using reactive dyes and which when washed the colour did not run or fade.


A Chartered Chemist, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, an Associate of the Royal College of Science, although of world renown and a university professor, when asked what he did for a living Ian would simply state that he was a “scientist” and a “teacher”.

His contribution to both fields was recognised in 1977 in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and Birthday Honours when he was awarded the OBE in recognition of his work in science and teaching.


Professor Rattee is survived by his second wife, Dale Cowan, and his two sons, David & Paul from his first marriage, two grandchildren Catherine and Robert and his great grandson Nathan.








For Further Information contact:

David Rattee – email: david_rattee@hotmail.com

07968 800081 and 01625 261095                                


Wednesday 20th May 2015

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