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An original 1939 Keep Calm and Carry On poster

Keep Calm and Carry On was a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 several months before the beginning of the Second World War, intended to raise the morale of the British public in the aftermath of widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities.[1][2] It had only limited distribution with no public display, and thus was little known. It was rediscovered in 2000, has been re-issued by a number of private companies, and has been used as the decorative theme for a range of products. It was believed there were only two known surviving examples of the poster outside government archives[3] until a collection of 20 originals was brought in to the Antiques Roadshow in 2012 by the daughter of an ex-Royal Observer Corps member.[4]


Design and production

The poster was initially produced by the Ministry of Information,[1] at the beginning of the Second World War. It was intended to be distributed in order to strengthen morale in the event of a wartime disaster, such as mass bombing of major cities using high explosives and poison gas, which was widely expected within hours of an outbreak of war. Over 2,500,000 copies were printed, although the poster was distributed only in limited numbers, and never saw public display.[5] Bristol photographer Reece Winstone's book of wartime photographs of the city shows the poster in large form on a billboard.[full citation needed]

The poster was third in a series of three. The previous two posters from the series, "Freedom Is In Peril. Defend It With All Your Might" and "Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory" were issued and used across Britain for motivational purposes, as the Ministry of Information assumed that the events of the first weeks of the war would demoralise the population.[6] Planning for the posters started in April 1939; by June designs were prepared, and by August 1939, production had begun, and the posters were ready to be placed up within 24 hours of the outbreak of war. The posters were intended to be associated with the Ministry of Information, and to incorporate a unique and recognisable lettering and design, with a message from the King to his people. An icon of a "Tudor" crown (a widely used symbol of government authority) was chosen to head the poster, rather than a photograph. The slogans were created by civil servants, with a career civil servant named Waterfield coming up with "Your Courage" as "a rallying war-cry that will bring out the best in everyone of us and put us in an offensive mood at once". These particular posters were designed as "a statement of the duty of the individual citizen", un-pictorial, to be accompanied by more colloquial designs. The "Your Courage" poster was much more famous during the war, as it was the first of the Ministry of Information's posters.[2]

However, although the campaign was prompt, and although 800,000 of the "Freedom Is In Peril" and "Your Courage" posters were distributed, many people claimed not to have seen them; while those who did see them regarded them as patronising and divisive. Design historian Susannah Walker regards the campaign as "a resounding failure", and reflective of a misjudgement by upper-class civil servants of the mood of the people.[7]

Later developments

Later in the war, a leaflet was distributed with a message from Prime Minister Winston Churchill headed "Beating the Invader". It begins "If invasion comes..." and goes on to exhort the populace to "Stand Firm" and "Carry On". The two phrases do not appear in one sentence, but are picked out in an emphatic font. The text identifies them as the two "great order(s) and dut(ies)" to and for the people, should invasion come. The leaflet then lists a number of practical measures to be taken.[citation needed]

Rediscovery and commercialisation

Shop display of "Keep Calm" merchandise, including the original slogan and variants such as "Keep Calm and Drink Tea".

In 2000, Stuart Manley, co-owner with his wife Mary of Barter Books Ltd. in Alnwick, Northumberland, was sorting through a box of used books bought at auction when he uncovered one of the original "Keep Calm and Carry On" posters. The couple framed it and hung it up by the cash register; and it attracted so much interest that Manley began to produce and sell copies.[8] Other companies followed suit, and the design rapidly began to be used as the theme for a wide range of products. "What seemed to the Manleys as just a bit of quintessential British nostalgia has morphed into an international industry."[9] Mary Manley later commented, "I didn't want it trivialised. But of course now it's been trivialised beyond belief."[9]

In early 2012, Barter Books debuted an informational short, The Story of Keep Calm and Carry On, providing visual insight into the modernisation and commercialisation of the design and the phrase.[10]

Susannah Walker comments that the poster is now seen "not only as a distillation of a crucial moment in Britishness, but also as an inspiring message from the past to the present in a time of crisis". She goes on to point out, however, that such an interpretation overlooks the circumstances of its production, and the relative failure of the campaign of which it formed a part.[11]

Trademark claims

In August 2011, it was reported a UK-based company called Keep Calm and Carry On Ltd[12] had registered the slogan as a community trade mark in the EU,[13][14] after failing to trademark the slogan in the United Kingdom.[15] They issued a take-down request against a seller of Keep Calm and Carry On products.[16][unreliable source?] Questions have been raised as to whether the registration could be challenged, as the slogan had been widely used before registration and is not recognisable as indicating trade origin.[14] An application has been submitted by British intellectual property advisor and UK trademarking service Trade Mark Direct, to cancel the trademark on the grounds that the words are too widely used for one person to own the exclusive rights.[17] The company is now trying to trademark the slogan in both the United States[18] and Canada.[15][19]


A 2009 parody of the poster

As the popularity of the poster in various media has grown, innumerable parodies, imitations and co-optations have also appeared, making it a notable meme. Messages range from the cute to the overtly political, typically with references to other aspects of popular culture ranging from the royal wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William to the Mario videogames. Examples have included "Now Panic and Freak Out" (with an upside-down crown), "Get Excited and Make Things" (with a crown incorporating spanners), "Keep Calm and Have a Cupcake" (with a cupcake icon), "Don’t Panic and Fake a British Accent", "Keep Calm and Hate Apple" (with the Windows logo), "Keep Calm and Hate Microsoft" (with the Apple logo), and "Keep Spending and Carry On Shopping",[20] In March–April 2012 the British pop-rock band McFly undertook a theatre tour entitled "The Keep Calm and Play Louder Tour", promoted with a poster closely based on that of 1939. In late 2012 and early 2013, the "Save Lewisham Hospital" campaign (a protest against proposed cuts in services at University Hospital Lewisham) made widespread use of a poster with the slogan "Don't Keep Calm Get Angry and Save Lewisham A&E".[21][22] Calgarian Mayor Naheed Nenshi's efforts to encourage and motivate his citizens in the wake of the 2013 Alberta floods have made his name the subject of parody "Keep Calm and Nenshi On" fundraising T-shirts.[23]

An Episode from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic parodies this phrase, called Keep Calm and Flutter On [24]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Keep Calm and Carry On Poster". IWM Shop. Imperial War Museum. 2011. Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lewis, Rebecca, Ph. D. (5 April 2009). "1939: The Three Posters (PhD Extract)". Keep Calm and Carry On and other Second World War Posters: British Home Front Propaganda Posters of the Second World War. 
  3. "One of only two surviving posters in the public domain". Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  4. Slack, Chris. "Keep Calm and Carry On... to the bank: Original wartime poster shows up on Antiques Roadshow". Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 13 May 2012. 
  5. Hughes, Stuart (4 February 2009). "The Greatest Motivational Poster Ever?". BBC News. 
  6. Rees, Nigel (20 July 2011). "Cheer up, the worst is yet to come". Today programme. BBC Radio 4. 
  7. Walker 2012, pp.6–7.
  8. "About Keep Calm and Carry On". 
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Keep Calm and carry on ... into a feud". 4 May 2013. Retrieved 4 May 2013. 
  10. "The Story of Keep Calm and Carry On" on YouTube
  11. Walker 2012, p. 45.
  12. Keep Calm and Carry On Ltd
  13. Bustillos, Maria (5 October 2011). "The Vicious Trademark Battle Over 'Keep Calm and Carry On'". The Awl. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Phillips, Jeremy (22 August 2011). "Monday miscellany". IPKitten blog. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Rayner, Gordon (24 September 2011). "Battle rages over 'Keep Calm and Carry On' souvenirs". The Daily Telegraph. London. 
  16. "Keep calm and carry on items removed from my ebay account". August 2011. 
  17. "IP group aims to reclaim 'Keep Calm & Carry On'". 
  18. "Serial Number: 85297485 Keep Calm and Carry On USA Trademark". Official Gazette. USPTO. 20 September 2011. 
  19. "Canadian Trade-mark Data". IC.GC.CA. 13 October 2011.;jsessionid=0001K46wR_Bu__TfKBulXGEhGen:-14J2QPI?lang=eng&status=&fileNumber=1524133&extension=0&startingDocumentIndexOnPage=1. 
  20. Walker, Rob (5 July 2009). "Remixed Messages". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 21 March 2012. 
  21. Little, Mandy (21 December 2012). "Protestors show unity". London. Retrieved 27 January 2013. 
  22. "Save Lewisham Hospital!". Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2013. 

Further reading

External links

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