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.


[MEDIA] Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster by @I_W_M

It’s interesting watching someone else give an overview of your research, here’s one of the Imperial War Museum curators picking out some of the bits that she’s found interesting from the book (easy to buy from Imperial War Museum direct, or Amazon). You can read a few other thoughts about my book here.


[KEEP CALM] The font is Caslon Egyptian, not Gill Sans?

Interesting blog post focusing upon the font used in the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster – claims it’s ‘Caslon Egyptian’, not ‘Gill Sans’ (which I may have described it as – but then I’m a historian, not a design historian):

Firstly, 1940s time traveller, don’t panic (my advice would be to keep calm and carry on). You should fit in to present-day Britain: Europe seems to be in disarray, Britain is being ruled by a coalition government, and the Daily Mail is still trying to pretend it was never sympathetic towards fascism. Secondly, the good news is that the 1940s Britain you’ve just left was never invaded by Germany. And so you have never had cause to see posters bearing the message ‘KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON’, as, after they were designed in 1939, they were never used.

Read full blog post.

I just checked my book:


[MEDIA] ‘Keep calm: The story behind the UK’s most famous poster design’ for @CNNStyle

The other week, I had a very enjoyable chat with Jacopo Prisco from CNN Style, and yesterday, the story posted:

It’s a pretty good representation of the conversation, although “the “Keep Calm” version never left the warehouses.”, as it was distributed around the country, just never officially sanctioned for release on the billboards. Also clarify that A.P. Waterfield definitely provided the text for ‘Your Courage’ poster, but it’s not clear who wrote the words for this particular poster. The Ministry of Information ‘design rules’ were for the series of posters, not just ‘Keep Calm’.