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Over recent years, in gift shops and online retailers, there has been an explosion in one theme: ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. Originally a poster from Britain during the Second World War, you can now buy the simple but reassuring message on almost anything, ready for display in your house or office. There’s just one small problem: the poster wasn’t used during the war, and hardly anyone ever saw it. Thanks to doctoral research from Dr. Rebecca Lewis, we now know the story.

In 1939, it became apparent to many people in Britain that a war on the continent was inevitable. Hitler had broken promise after promise, and there seemed little chance he wouldn’t take a decision which provoked war. backgrounds keep calm. To this end, Britain’s Ministry of Information decided that one thing which might suffer during the war, especially during the aerial bombardment many had calculated would cause massive losses, was the civilian morale. backgrounds keep calm. To this end it was decided – although not without objections to create five million morale boosting posters which could be quickly pasted up.

So why is this poster so well known in Britain, and growing popularity elsewhere? In 2000, the owner of Barter Books purchased a box of potential stock at an auction, and found an original Keep Calm and Carry On poster at the bottom. backgrounds keep calm. He put it up behind the desk, and after being inundated with requests, printed a few more, and then after gaining government permission released a modern version. No trademark was sought, and others jumped on the bandwagon. Thanks to Britain’s nostalgia for the idea of plucky wartime Brits keeping backgrounds keep calm, a twenty first century icon was born out of a failed wartime idea barely anyone actually saw. But thanks to the poster, and now the mugs etc. etc., people believe this was a key wartime edict. And, of course, people did just what the poster said just without the poster.

 

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