John Brooke-Little’s first contact with the College of Arms came when as a schoolboy he went to see Sir Algar Howard, then Garter King of Arms, who encouraged his interest in heraldry. At Clayesmore School he founded a heraldry society.
In 1952 he secured a position as one of the staff the Earl Marshal had assembled to plan the 1953 Coronation, and was a Gold Staff Officer on the actual day. John Brooke-Little had many anecdotes from this period of his life including that of finding on Coronation morning a char-woman ensconced in the lavatory specially installed for the Queen. He also relished the story of the elderly marquess who, on being told that if he wanted to sit close to a lavatory during the long service he must sit with the viscounts, replied ‘that will be fine, my dear chap; I am not a bit class-conscious’.
In 1956 John was appointed Bluemantle Pursuivant and began his career as an officer of arms which would last for more than forty years. He was advanced to the office of Richmond Herald in 1967. During his years as an officer of arms in ordinary he was the agent for a large number grants of arms. He particularly liked the combination of gules and or and this is a theme which appears in many of his designs. His own arms, granted to his father in 1952 were Argent gutty de sang three Unicorn’s Heads erased Sable armed and crined Or langued Azure, and the crest a demi Unicorn erased Sable armed crined and unguled Or and langued as in the Arms gorged with a collar compony Gold and Gules attached thereto a Chain reflexed over the back also Gold. The unicorn supporters granted to the Heraldry Society in 1957 are a quotation from the Brooke-Little arms.
At the College of Arms he built up a substantial practice in heraldry and genealogy and in the running of this was assisted for many years by his loyal lieutenant Miss Mary Rose Rogers, MBE. He lectured widely, carrying his enthusiasm for heraldry and for the theatre of ceremonial to a wide audience. His lecture tours took him to Australia and several times to North America.
John Brooke-Little served in the vital offices at the College of Arms of Librarian, Registrar, and Treasurer. Among the many positions and offices he held outside the College he was adviser on heraldry to the National Trust and to the Shrievalty Association, a Fellow of the Society of Genealogists, and Master of the Scriveners’ Company (1985-86).
He wrote often on heraldry. In particular he was co-editor and then editor of editions of the standard work of reference on English heraldry by Boutell from 1963 to 1983. In 1973 he produced An Heraldic Alphabet, an invaluable guide to heraldic terminology for both novice and expert. Its usefulness and popularity is reflected by the fact that it is still in print.
A convivial companion and amusing story teller, John Brooke-Little had a wide circle of friends. For many years he was a regular patron of El Vino’s wine bar in Fleet Street.
In 1980 he became Norroy and Ulster King of Arms, and remained such until the death of Sir Anthony Wagner in1995 on which the office of Clarenceux King of Arms became vacant. From 1995 to 1997 John Brooke-Little was Clarenceux, retiring on reaching his 70th birthday. He was appointed MVO (4th class) in 1969, and CVO in 1984.
John Brooke-Little married in 1960 Mary, daughter of J. R. Pierce. She with their three sons, Philip, Leo and Merlin, and daughter Clare, survives him.