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Keep Calm and Read On

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What is it about Keep Calm and Carry on? You see it is everywhere, but where does it come from? How has it come back? Let’s try and find out the origin of this graphic revolution.

The poster was commissioned in 1939 by the Ministry of Information of the British Government, who were in charge of publicity during the Second World War. The order consisted of a series of posters with the message “Keep Calm and Carry On”, which had to be distributed all over the United Kingdom. The objective? To encourage and convey a message of calm and optimism to the population in such hard times, before a possible German invasion of British territory. All posters in the series should have been consistent graphically and in the style of a simple but effective typology, a white message on a coloured background and King George IV’ s Crown.

The famous poster Keep Calm and Carry On never saw the light of day.

During the first years of the conflict, two posters were distributed all over Great Britain: “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory” over a blue background and “Freedom Is In Peril, Defend It With All Your Might” on a green background. Nonetheless, the famous poster “Keep Calm and Carry On” never saw the light of day. Its soothing function was envisaged for the worst moments, when Germany might have invaded England. As this never occurred, these posters were destroyed when the war came to an end.

Fifty-five years later, the now famous red poster was discovered in a bookshop called Barter Books (in Alnwick, Northwest of England) by the married couple who managed it, amongst a pile of old books bought in an auction.

Today, a few copies are kept in the National Archives and in the Imperial War Museum in London. Moragh Turnbull owns another fifteen copies, inherited from her father, who served in the Royal Observer Corps during the war. Mrs. Turnbull was not aware of the value of her possession until last year, when she took them to the Antiques Roadshow and a specialist recognised them. When the BBC interviewed her, she mentioned that “The slogan is quite appropriate for my own personal circumstances because I have recently lost my job and I am desperately looking for another one.”

This way, “Keep Calm and Carry On” has become a slogan for the present times, and its role is still to inspire trust within society in hard times: such a simple and timeless poster in shape and content, which has become a real graphic icon.

Learn the history in audiovisual format here.

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