Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Keep Calm and Carry On

Knowing of my interest in quotations, my wife’s gifts to me for Christmas included two books of quotations.  The first is a 2009 small red book called “Keep Calm and Carry On”.  Its 2010 companion volume is called “Now Panic and Freak Out.”  They are pictured below.

In the months to come I will share some of the quotations from both books with you.  The first book summarises its content on the back of the cover by the simple words “Good Advice for Hard Times”.  The second book has a longer commentary: “Keep Calm and Carry On is all very well, but life isn’t that simple.  Let’s own up and face facts: we’re getting older, the politicians are not getting any wiser, and the world’s going to hell in a handbasket.  It’s time to panic.  Here’s a book packed with quotations proving that keeping calm is not an option.”

What is especially interesting about these books is the cover of the red book.  I will explain.

 In 1939 England went to war with Germany.  Herr Hitler had the intention of invading and occupying Britain but the Brits weren’t about to let Adolf and his jackbooted soldaten march through their streets.  No sirree. 

As part of the government’s intended strengthening of public morale it had 3 posters printed in 1939, months before the war even started on 3 September.  The posters were designed to look uniform, with a crown to indicate that they were a message by the King to his people.   

The first poster was blue and bore the words "Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory".  There were 800,000 printed and they were displayed within 24 hours of war being declared.  They were put on buildings, buses, billboards, railway stations, the Underground, anywhere that it was possible to display it.  The words “Your courage” were intended to become a public battle cry.  The words were even put to music and sung in bombshelters and the Underground during the Blitz.

The second to be released was a green poster with the words “Freedom Is In Peril, Defend It With All Your Might”.  400,000 copies were printed.

Which brings us to the third poster, in red, which looks the same as the cover of the red quotes book.  There were 2,500,000 posters printed but none were ever displayed and only two survive today.  The reason for that is that the poster was to be used only if Hitler invaded Britain.  It was a last resort poster..  This proposed use makes the choice of colour and design somewhat strange, given that Nazi banners were also in red and white, as well as black:

Hitler never invaded England, instead dying by self inflicted gunshot wound in a bunker in Berlin.  The posters were disposed of and were forgotten.

That is, until the year 2000 when the owners of a bookshop in Northumberland discovered one of the original posters folded up at the bottom of a box of secondhand books..  They framed it and displayed it in their bookshop.  Reproductions were made for friends and customers, eventually leading to sales of other merchandise bearing the image.  According to Mary Marley, one of the bookshop owners,  “Part of it is that it does have this sort of intrinsic British feel about it,” adding that the poster evokes a “nostalgia for a certain British character, an outlook.”

Because the poster is in the public domain, imitators followed suit and it has now been sold as merchandise and as artworks in England, the US and even Germany.  Who would have believed it.  See the New York Times article at:

Katie Price

Rupert Gint

The slogan gained a resurgence in 2009 when the GFC began to bite in both Britain and the US.  Its use in England is now widespread and has inspired numerous parody versions.  The “Now Panic and Freak Out” book is such a parody.

One final aspect.

In keeping with modern times, a UK based company, Keep Calm and carry On Pty Ltd, registered the slogan with the European Union as a trademark and was telling other manufacturers and sellers to stop using it.  This raises an issue as to whether something widely used before registration and not originating from trade can be the subject of registration as a trademark.  An application has been lodged to undo the registration.  This has not stopped the holder of the registration.  It is now also trying to register the trademark in the US and Canada as well.  See:


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