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.


Fougasse Exhibition @ The Cartoon Musuem

Fougasse – Careless Talk Costs Lives

9 September – 21 November 2010

An exhibition of classic war-time poster designs, posters for London Transport and Punch cartoons by Fougasse from the 1920s to the 1960s at the Cartoon Museum, 35 Little Russell Street, London WC1A 2HH. Hopefully of interest to followers of this site. We will also be doing some talks on Fougasse during October.

Comment sent to old site by Anita O’Brien

Read more about Fougasse on this site.

History Reviewer

Fougasse (Kenneth Bird) A School of Purposes London: Methuen & Co., 1946

An small book extensively illustrated with many of the posters produced by this famous artist during the Second World War. There is a brief introduction by A.P.Herbert, and the illustrations are accompanied by an essay by Fougasse considering some of the objectives to be met, and the difficulties to be dealt with, by the poster artist. This allows us to appreciate all the more the images produced by Fougasse and other poster artists.

See if you can find it on Amazon.


Fougasse (Cyril Kenneth Bird) (b.1887; d.1965)

54439758fdfd9faa220cc3fde213ffc2A great modern twist on a Fougasse poster with regards to careless mobile talking costs lives (Neil has given me permission to put the original in), and he’s also done another image relating to “Police bugged Muslim MP Sadiq Khan” (and he’s sent me some more, which I shall post at a later date). There’s a a lovely design on noise, which I think is a genuine one.

Fougasse was born on 17 December 1887 in London as Cyril Kenneth Bird. Educated at Farmborough Park School, Hampshire from 1898 to 1902, Cheltenham College 1902 to 1904 and King’ College, London 1904 to 1908 where he studied engineering. He attended art classes at the Regent Street Polytechnic and the School of Photo-Engraving and Lithography in Bolt Court, while at King’s College London. Bird took on the pseudonym ‘Fougasse’ in the first world war, meaning ‘a small land mine which might or might not hit the mark’ in the First World War, as the signature ‘Bird’ was already being used by another Punch artist. The name was deemed appropriate for an ex-Royal Engineer, as he had been until wounded at Gallipoli in 1916. Whilst recuperating he started to draw cartoons which he sent to Punch and other magazines. He was successful but continued to take lessons from Percy V Bradshaw by correspondence. He became a regular contributor to Punch, becoming art editor in 1937, editor in 1949, retiring in 1953. When Fougasse was appointed Editor of Punch, Art and Industry ran a celebration of his work, written by his formed ‘master’, Percy V. Bradshaw. Fougasse described how his humour needed to be rooted in reality to be effective, and the method he had used to attract attention during the war years. Other magazines he contributed to were The Bystander, The Graphic, London Opinion, The Stretch and The Tatler.

fougassehitlerunderthetableHe had designed his first poster for London Transport in 1935. Fougasse had abandoned commercial art-work about three years before war started, which Advertiser’s Weekly viewed as a loss, of ‘one of the most subtle interpreters of the British idiom that it has ever known’. He returned in order to design posters for the war effort. He was described as ‘the most sought-after humorous artist of our time’. By the Second World War he had become ‘an established cartoonist, illustrator and commercial designer. He offered his services free to the government, suggesting that humour was an ideal vehicle for propaganda, and went on to design a wide range of graphic material in aid of the war effort’. He designed ‘visual propaganda of all kinds: books, booklets, pamphlets, press advertisements and even a film strip’, working for ‘practically every Ministry’ and many other groups. Fougasse was personally commissioned to do work for the MOI by Embleton, Edwin. Fougasse received the C.B.E. in 1946. He died in London on 11 June 1965.

Information taken from: All About Posters, ‘Fougasse’,, Accessed 28 August 2003; Darracott, J. and Loftus, B., Second World War Posters, 1981 (1972), pp.30-31; ‘Bird, Cyril Kenneth (C.B.E.)’, Anonymous, Who’s Who in Art, 1948; Bradshaw, P.V., ‘Fougasse of Punch’, Art and Industry, Vol. 46, No. 275, May 1949, pp.180-185; ‘Bird, Cyril Kenneth (Fougasse)’, Poster Database, London Transport Museum, accessed February 2000; ‘Advertising and the British Tradition’, Advertiser’s Weekly, February 22 1940, p.140; ‘The Mighty Fougasse’,Advertiser’s Weekly, February 29 1940, p.168; Caption at Power of the Poster exhibition at the V&A, 1997; Livingston, A, and Livingston, I., Dictionary of Graphic Design and Designers, 1992, p.77; Questionnaire submitted by Royall, K. to Embleton, E., Royall, K., ‘Posters of the Second World War: The Fourth Arm of British Defence’, Unpublished M.A., University of Westminster, 1991, p.123.

Featured Image Source (2015): Rennart