Selling a Healthy War

Abstract: The wartime poster “Keep Calm and Carry On” was one of three produced by the Ministry of Information (MOI) in 1939, kept in reserve in case of necessity. The MOI, officially formed at the outbreak of the Second World War, was the central governmental publicity machine. Its role was to tell the citizen ‘clearly and swiftly what he is to do, where he is to do it, how he is to do it and what he should not do’.“Keep Calm and Carry On” has had a credit-crunch induced renaissance in 2009. Mass-Observation, collecting reaction at the time, found many decreed them “too solemn” with a yearning for a “bit of humour”. Wartime propaganda was not produced without planning, planning for the 1939 campaign had commenced in 1935. The MOI had comprehensive strategies, covering not only posters, but radio, press and film.“Health is a Munition of War” declared the “Fighting Fit” exhibition in 1943: poor health led to absenteeism, which had an impact on war production. This paper will examine surviving posters and public information films from the campaign “Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases” as forms of inter-textual promotion. Cinema and posters, both visual medium, complemented each other in a cohesive strategically planned campaign, drawing upon images of how it was ‘appropriate’ for the democratic British ‘citizen’ to behave in a time of war, often using the British ’secret weapon’ of humour.

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