Digital History

[EVENT] Zoom with @TechForGoodTV – and a Suggestion of @AllusionistShow re Keep Calm

I’ve just come off a Zoom event with @TechForGoodTV – always encouraging to hear about the ways in which tech can be used for good, the enthusiasm of people to want to change the world, despite (and especially because) the extra challenges presented by COVID-19 – when there is more need, and much less money being given to charities:

What was that about Keep Calm and Carry On?

At the start of the event we were thrown into breakout groups (well, it was the start for me, who’d come in late from my walk), and hearing that I’d done my PhD on wartime propaganda posters/written the original history of Keep Calm (before it was discovered), was asked if I’d come across the Allusionist podcast (interesting to hear who they asked on this topic):

Twenty years ago, a 1939 poster printed by the British government with the words ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ turned up in a second-hand bookshop in Northern England. And lo! A decor trend was born: teatowels, T-shirts, mugs, phone cases, condoms, and a zillion riffs on the phrase.

Bookshop owner Stuart Manley talks about unearthing the poster that spawned countless imitations; author Owen Hatherley explains why the poster was NOT, in fact, an exemplar of Blitz Spirit and British bulldog courage and whatnot; and psychologist and therapist Jane Gregory considers whether being told to keep calm can actually keep us calm.

So, will find time to listen to that podcast … and you all, of course, can read the book! They did pick up on the video the IWM produced around my book, which I missed doing as I was dealing with something cancer-related (what’s new) – though these days I could do it myself at home (and may do so) – as I have a light ring and a proper microphone too…


[KEEP CALM] ‘Keep Calm’ like they did in WW2, says @realDonaldTrump

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.


[WRITER] Brazilian-Portuguese Version of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’


Was alerted to this via Twitter, then found on Facebook – my book ‘Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind The Poster’ – translated into Brazilian-Portuguese:

Saíram do forno!

Os livros da campanha de crowdfunding e da pré-venda já estão disponíveis e serão enviados assim que a…

Posted by Laerte Lucas Zanetti on Tuesday, 18 August 2020


[WRITER] Is Your Journey Really Necessary? #COVID19 #WW2Poster

I wrote the following for the Bank Holiday weekend in April – didn’t quite find it a home, so decided going to post it on here: 

Is Your Journey Really Necessary? (IWM File)
Is Your Journey Really Necessary? (Art.IWM PST 0144) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

As we approach the Bank Holiday weekend, and the Coronavirus pandemic continues, social media and the news is rife with comment and concerns that people are not taking note of the social distancing guidelines. With good weather forecast for the weekend, we hear that some people are still planning to have ‘leisure days out’, rather than comply with the three reasons permitted by the government to leave your house: for essential work, for essential shopping or medical appointments, or for your daily exercise.

The focus on the word ‘essential’ has led to debate as to what may be considered essential, whether that be to keep the economy going, or to benefit someone’s mental health, and how that should be balanced against increased risk that purchasing an item may cause those working in the factories producing and dispatching the items that we order online.[1] Comparisons to the Second World War have been growing over the crisis, with alerts for the term ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ on the up.[2] Some positive comparisons look back to it as a time ‘we all came together’; others are more negative, with Marina Hyde stressing the problems with warlike language around Boris Johnson ‘being a fighter’.[3]

Whereas social media is one of the main sources of information in the current crisis, the poster in the Second World War was a significant support service to the wireless and newspapers. The poster had an advantage over these other forms of media, as it was hard to ignore, cheap to produce, and not reliant upon hard to obtain replacement parts, and with more restrictions on newspaper space by 1942, even more use was made of posters. The messages and slogans of many of those posters are still familiar to those of us who have been brought up in Britain. With the Second World War defined as ‘The People’s War’, there is a message of ‘it all depends on you’, and ‘we’re all in it together’ (although there was a thriving black market during the Second World War), several of these slogans could be repurposed well within the current crisis.

‘Is Your Journey Really Necessary’ were a series of posters commissioned by the Railway Executive Committee in 1942. Two posters designed by Bert Thomas[4] were used through ‘til 1944. One design depicted a rank and file soldier challenging the viewer to think just how essential their journey is during this time of crisis, whilst the second depicted a wealthy couple looking hesitant as to whether their travel was necessary. Other designs encouraged those who had essential, but non-work, journeys to travel between 10 and 4, leaving public transport available for key workers.[5] In June 1942, Advertiser’s Weekly noted that campaigns to reduce travel around Easter, led to 31.7% less figures for April 1942 over April 1941. What will the statistics for April 2020 demonstrate?[6]

In 1944, the Ministry of Agriculture considered all their long-running campaigns, ‘Lend a Hand on the Land’,[7] ‘Grow More Food’[8] and ‘Dig for Victory’[9] as successful enough to continue throughout 1945. By November 1939, an additional 500,000 allotments were created in and around urban areas in England and Wales. During the coronavirus lockdown, seed producers are struggling to keep up with demand as people take up gardening,[10] with some seeking self-sufficiency in response to the challenges to the food supply chain.[11] With the UK facing shortages of fruit and vegetable pickers because of travel restrictions for overseas workers,[12] the ‘Lend a Hand on the Land’ campaign could return. The ‘Lend a Hand on the Land’ campaign looked to attract urbanites to use their holidays to work in rural areas, and ran into the post-war years, in conjunction with the ‘Holidays at Home’ campaign. People ‘discovered that farm work was a dignified, and notably cheap, way of taking a holiday in wartime’,[13] although the overly idealised images caused problems for some farmers when the images did not match the realities and, as a consequence, the ‘wrong’ type of person was recruited, turning up ‘dressed for a picnic’ and ‘incapacitated in a matter of hours.’[14]

In the war, soldiers told us ‘We are saving you, YOU save food’.[15] Similarly, NHS key workers tell us (often within Tik-Tok dances) ‘We can’t stay @home, but you can’, or more snappily #StayHomeSaveLives, helping us to understand that all of our small actions make a difference. A large campaign during the war ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’, sought to encourage citizens that that small piece of knowledge that they shared, or the spreading of defeatism, all contributed to the bigger picture. Like many of the memes that we see shared online, Fougasse[16] felt that humour got the message over more easily than strictures (although his work was combined with more serious designs). A careful watch was kept on rumours and steps were taken to make sure that explanations or denials were either put out through newspapers, or counter-rumours were circulated. Like the modern-day campaign against fake news,[17] the MOI recognised the need to give the public more facts to stop them fabricating their own, using the whole gamut of communication available to them.

So, this weekend, is your journey really necessary?

Dr Bex Lewis is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her PhD was on British home front propaganda posters during the Second World War, she is the author of Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster, and wrote much of the content for

*Her PhD thesis can be found at:













[13] Calder, A., The People’s War, 1969, p.430.

[14] Chamberlin, E.R., Life in Wartime Britain, 1972, p.129.





[WRITER] My @I_W_M #KeepCalmAndCarryOn Book Featured as a Recommended Work by @PosterHouseNYC

Lovely to come across this short video on Instagram, from Poster House, New York (determined to get there someday), and see that I have been featured as the first book:


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Book suggestions from our Chief Curator

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These are all the other books mentioned in the video:


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Did you see all the great poster books our curator mentioned in today’s video? What are some of your favorite poster-related reads?

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And just to note that the Guardian featured another piece on Keep Calm and Carry On this week, but didn’t delve into my history of it!