Fougasse – Careless Talk Costs Lives

9 September – 24 November 2010

‘How carelessly we should have talked during the war but for Fougasse.’
Princess Elizabeth in 1950.

In February 1940 the Ministry of Information launched a series of posters called Careless Talk Costs Lives as part of its ‘nation-wide anti-gossip campaign’. From the beginning, the witty and colourful posters by Kenneth Bird, ‘Fougasse’ (1887-1965) which showed Hitler and Goering eavesdropping in the most unlikely places attracted special attention, and seventy years later they remain some of the most memorable images of the Second World War. This exhibition of over 80 works by Fougasse shows how his style became progressively more direct and economical, culminating in his war-time propaganda work. A keen observer of the middle classes, his war-time series on ‘The Changing Face of Britain’ reveals how the conflict transformed British society, especially the role of women and the relations between the classes.

Kenneth Bird was born in London in 1887. His desire to become an artist was discouraged by his father. Instead he decided to train as a civil engineer. During the First World War his spine was shattered by a shell while fighting at Gallipoli in 1915. While convalescing, Bird produced his first published cartoon for Punch from his sickbed in 1916 under the pseudonym ‘Fougasse’ – the name of a small mine which ‘might or might not hit its mark’. He remained a regular contributor to Punch until 1964.

Throughout the 1920s and ‘30s he produced cartoons on themes ranging from sport, motoring, radio and suburban life as well as posters for London Transport, whose messages are still relevant today. His cartooning style became increasingly spare, leaving behind the fussy penmanship and interminable captions of the nineteenth century. In 1937 he became art editor at Punch, updating the look of the magazine and encouraging cartoonists such as Pont, Paul Crum and David Langdon.

During the Second World War, in addition to the Careless Talk posters, Fougasse designed, free of charge, hundreds of posters, leaflets and booklets for nearly every government ministry. All were distinctively framed by his trademark bold red border and used humour in an eye-catching way to get the message across to the public. His war-time work earned him a CBE in 1946.

As the first cartoonist ever to edit Punch (1949-52), he restyled the magazine and encouraged younger contributors such as Ronald Searle, Rowland Emett and Robert Sherriffs. But it is for his war-time work, which entertained and amused while it persuaded and informed, that Fougasse is most fondly remembered by the British public.

The exhibition coincides with the publication of Careless Talk Costs Lives: Fougasse and the Art of Public Information by James Taylor (Conway, £9.99)

For images or more information contact Anita O’Brien or Kate Owens on 020 7631 0793 or

The Cartoon Museum is open Tue- Sat: 10.30 – 17.30; Sun: 12 – 17.30

Admission: Adults £5, Conc £4, Students £3, Free to Under-18s. Nearest tubes: Holborn or Tottenham Court Road

See more on this site on Fougasse: Biography and search. I plan to go to the opening night tomorrow.

By Second World War Posters

Mass Communications Academic, @MMUBS. British Home Front Propaganda posters as researched for a PhD completed 2004. In 1997, unwittingly wrote the first history of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster, which she now follows with interest.

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