In the United Kingdom, the Government's Ministry of Information was preparing for what now seemed an inevitability. It was widely predicted that, in the event of war, major cities in Britain could be subjected to German air bombardment deploying poisoned gas. What was needed was a campaign to confront these public fears and boost morale in the face of impending death and disaster.
2,500,000 copies of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster – its slogan surmounted by a Tudor crown – were printed between 23 August 1939 and 3 September 1939 but, despite hostilities beginning on 1 September, it was decided that the poster should be held back for use following the first serious air-raids.
Instead, two other posters were produced for distribution...
However, the campaign was not a success: people criticised it as a waste of money and its slogans as patronising and it was abandoned in October 1939 with the stocks of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster being pulped as part of a paper salvage drive.
It was 2000 that Stuart Manley, co-owner with his wife Mary, of Barter Books Ltd, came across a surviving copy of the poster and displayed over the cash register in their shop. It caught people's imaginations and the Manleys were soon reproducing and selling copies.
This was the beginning of what has developed into a mega-industry in which the poster has been parodied, adapted and hijacked for several thousand alternative versions that have been reproduced on a legion of commercial products (cards, mugs, tea-pots, aprons, t-shirts, cuff-links and iPhone covers) that – depending on your view – have either provided inspiring and amusing comments on contemporary society or have trivialised and bastardised a relic of a momentous event in the history of the twentieth century.
Just when I had begun to think that the 'Keep Calm' joke had really worn more than a trifle thin (despite my own use of it in the sidebar on the right!), along comes a version that really made me LAUGH!
My friend, Sheila Shrigley (incidentally one of the calmest people I know!) spotted this sign on the cage of a Eurasian Griffon Vulture at the International Centre for Birds of Prey in Duncombe, Yorkshire...