The instruction to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ has become one of the most recognisable slogans in British history. The phrase has reinforced a popular view of life in the Second World War and has been reproduced on everything from champagne flutes to smartphone cases. A window advertisement passed by one of our team on their daily commute even encourages them to ‘Keep Calm and Order Signage’.
The original slogan was coined by the shadow Ministry of Information between 27 June and 6 July 1939 and was intended to form part of a series of three ‘Home Publicity’ posters that would be issued in the event of war. Although 2.45 million copies of the ‘Keep Calm’ design were printed in the days immediately preceding the Second World War, its display was never officially authorised and only a handful of the originals have survived to this day.
It is something of an irony that the decision not to issue the poster was influenced by a belief that its restrained message was ‘too commonplace to be inspiring’ and fears that people might ‘resent having [it] crammed down their throats at every turn’. One cannot but wonder what those who made this decision would think of the way that the poster has been popularised in the years since a copy was ‘rediscovered’ in a box of second hand books in 2001. Given that other parts of the Ministry of Information’s campaign were highly criticised at the time, it is also reasonable to wonder whether the slogan would be as popular now had it been actually been issued!
To mark the 75th anniversary of this significant cultural artefact, the ‘Communications History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-45’ project team have used previously neglected sources held by the National Archives to explore how ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ contributed to Britain’s preparations for the Second World War. You can find out more about the results of their enquiry by reading Dr Henry Irving’s post for the History of Government blog.
To find out more about the ‘Communications History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-45’ project check out the website or follow the project on Twitter @moidigital.