In 2000 a poster was ‘discovered’ in the bottom of a box of books, bought at auction by a book-seller in Alnwick. The poster, designed by the Ministry of Information (MOI) in 1939, was intended to be posted in the event of a major crisis, such as invasion. It was (probably) distributed around the country in the same way that other posters were – to post offices, train stations, etc. Two other posters in the series “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution will bring Us Victory” and “Freedom is in Peril, Defend it with all your Might” were posted widely. But as Britain was never invaded, “Keep Calm and Carry On” was never used.
The poster has had a resurgence, particularly since November 2008, when the credit crunch really hit, with many using it as a mantra to get through their daily lives. Catching the mood of the nation it has been widely distributed, copied onto mugs, T shirts and student walls, and the message subverted in multiple ways.
The MOI, officially formed at the outbreak of the Second World War, was the central governmental publicity machine. Its role was to tell the citizen ‘clearly and swiftly what he is to do, where he is to do it, how he is to do it and what he should not do’. Their messages, which tapped into a sense of what it was to be British during the war, have continued to sell as items of nostalgia, and come to the forefront again during the current financial crisis.
This paper considers recent uses, including ‘Make do and Mend’ in times of austerity, ‘Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases’ for Swine Flu, and, most recently, the Green Party’s environmental ‘New Home Front’ competition, and what that indicates with regards to an underlying sense of ‘Britishness’.
Abstract for ‘The Second World War in Popular Culture and Cultural Memory‘, 13-15 July 2011.