“For many the wartime slogans, such as Dig for Victory, Careless Talk Costs Lives, and Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases, have never been forgotten. Such slogans have been passed on as a part of our common heritage,” says Dr Rebecca Lewis, a historian who has made a study of the subject. “Posters that were not published or were withdrawn also make for interesting study, particularly for reasons as to why they were rejected,” she adds. “However, there do not seem to be many examples of these, although whether this is because records of unsuccessful designs were not kept or because there were not many was not established.”
My PhD ‘The Planning, Design and Reception of British Home Front Propaganda Posters of the Second World War’ was awarded (without corrections) in June 2004 by what is now the University of Winchester.
The poster with a proclamation from the King was to be ‘plastered everywhere in order to drive the contents into everyone’s head’. By August 1939 war was regarded as inevitable, and by 9 August the finished drawings were submitted to Macadam for final approval. Any adaptations to proportions would then be made and the posters printed. By 23 August the proportions to be printed were decided. The percentages were: ‘Freedom is in Peril’ (for remote areas), 12% (figure 22); ‘Keep Calm and Carry on’, 65%; and ‘Your Courage, etc.’, 23% (figure 1). The Treasury had approved costs for a single poster, three designs were produced, exceeding estimates by under £50. “Our Fighting Men Depend on You” for factories, works, docks and harbours, was also printed, for which no allowance had originally been made. By September, ‘Your Courage’ and ‘Freedom is in Peril’ were already being posted throughout the country. ‘Keep Calm and Carry on’ was printed and held in reserve for when the necessity arose, for example, a severe air-raid, although it was never actually displayed. Soon after war was declared, the small poster ‘Don’t Help the Enemy, Careless Talk may give away vital secrets’ (figure 62) was approved by the War Office and was ready to put into production. 58,000 copies had already been distributed by September 17, and 75,000 copies were to be despatched daily from September 26. By the end of September 1939, roughs for further designs had been prepared and approved, including messages from the King and the Queen, designs specifically for factories and docks, and designs specifically for each branch of the armed services: reassurance, not recruiting, posters.
 PRO INF 1/10, ‘Functions and Organisation of the Ministry. Memorandum by E.B. Morgan’, early 1939.
 PRO INF 1/266, ‘Memo from Vaughan to Macadam’, August 9 1939.
 PRO INF 1/226, ‘Letter from Macadam to W.G.V. Vaughan’, August 23 1939. In the same folder, ‘Demand for Printing Slip for HMSO’, August 31 1939, and ‘Poster Campaign: Distribution’, November 1 1940, give details of the exact quantities ordered on August 31 1939, in a variety of sizes and in both broadside and upright versions, and where distributed. PRO INF 1/302, ‘Summary of Activities of Home Publicity Division’, September 28 1939 notes that all sizes were included, from 20ft. by 10ft. down to 15” x 10”.
 PRO INF 1/226, ‘Letter from I.S.Macadam, MOI to E.Rowe-Dutton, Treasury’, September 4 1939.
 PRO INF 1/6, ‘First Report on the Activities of the Ministry of Information from September 3 to September 17 1939’, September 1939.
 PRO INF 1/302, ‘Summary of Activities of Home Publicity Division’, September 28 1939.
I have lots more I could say, and hope to be back with some more considered comments, summarising elements of my PhD, before I get round to the book!
Simon Edge, ‘Sign of the Times’, Daily Express, 19th March 2009 (not online)
- Jon Henley, ‘What Crisis?’, The Guardian, 18th March 2009
- Jess Cartner-Morley, ‘Women of Britain – your designers need you!’, 28th February 2009
- ‘Keep Calm and Put Your Poster Up’, Guardian Picture Gallery (not the subverted design!)
- Jane Fryer, ‘Exquisitely understated, utterly inspiring, the wartime poster striking a chord in our credit-crunch times’, Daily Mail, 19th March 2009
- Stuart Hughes, ”The greatest motivational poster ever?’, BBC News, 4 February 2009
- ‘Bookseller discovers rare wartime Keep Calm and Carry On poster’, Telegraph, 23 February 2009
- I’m trying to identify a story I saw the other week, regarding temporarily taking on less hours to secure a job, as this poster was on the pictured employees desk…
- Barter Books: the ‘Keep Calm’ range (Mary’s blog entry on the success of their find, the history (taken from my site))
- The competition, obliquely referred to by Barter Books.
- Retro to Go: Keep Calm
- Keep Calm: Rugs
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.