So, in a speech, President Donald Trump said:
As the British government advised the British people in the face of World War II, keep calm and carry on,” he said. “That’s what I did.”
As you may know, I wrote the original history of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ (as throwaway sentences in academic work in 1997 and 2004), and then in 2017, published ‘The Truth Behind the Poster‘ via Imperial War Museum:
The book tells the story of the now infamous Keep Calm and Carry On poster, produced by the British government in the Second World War. The poster was part of a series of three (with another produced shortly after) designed to keep morale up on the outbreak of war, when it was expected that the country would be subjected to immediate and sustained bombardment. As noted, in my earlier work, Keep Calm and Carry On was merely a footnote to the other two posters in the series ‘Your Courage‘, and ‘Freedom is in Peril‘ – known as the ‘red posters’, despite the fact that they also came in green and blue! Those two posters, that were displayed almost as soon as the war started attracted negative coverage from the press who were a) threatened by possible censorship b) felt that the government was out of touch with contemporary thinking as to the kind of messages that were appropriate.
Many of the newspaper articles, such as this one in the Independent, talk about how the design was ‘rarely used’ – the book lays out how it was never formally permitted for use, although it had been circulated nationally, to be kept ready for the signal to use it. There may have been places that unofficially put it up, but it was never officially sanctioned …
This article from OneLondon, is one of the few that has done a bit more homework and identified my book as the story behind all this, and also looked at a comparison between WW2 and COVID government communications:
UK government communications about Covid have included the much-mocked Stay Alert slogan, but so far – unlike the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention – steered clear of anything closely referencing the Keep Calm And Carry On propaganda that has become a pop culture staple. It was never actually used in wartime, after market research discovered that people found it patronising. But with a whole season of Brexit deal-making and what looks like epic political and economic instability ahead, journalists and politicians will not be short of Blitz comparison opportunities. We must all hope that 2020s London emerges as unbowed and as valued as in the war.