Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Keep Calm and Carry On


I’d seen the “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters around here and there, but had never actually got around to looking into the background. I guessed they were a wartime effort, and the stoical, understated tone is one that suits almost any situation. Stiff upper lip, keeping your head when all about are losing theirs and all that. It’s like the attitude of the British Troops in the Gulf in 1991 who, on learning that Operation Desert Storm had commenced, decided that the appropriate response to the news was to put the kettle on.

So I Googled and found this site, which traces some of the history. It seems the poster was the third in a series, reserved for distribution in the event of an invasion by the despotic tyrant Hitler. The immediately preceding effort ran “Freedom Is In Peril”, and of course you just know that “peril” would have been pronounced with a rolling “r” and to rhyme with “hill”, not the modern, lazy “perul”.

Anyway, I soon came upon this article from the Grauniad last March, which expands on the history of the poster, and inevitably gets some sociologists to pretend to be useful by offering their insights into the poster’s modern popularity.

Dr Lesley Prince, who lectures in social psychology at Birmingham University, is blunter still. “It is a quiet, calm, authoritative, no-bullshit voice of reason,” he says. “It’s not about British stiff upper lip, really.

Oh dear, he couldn’t get past the second sentence without sneering at the “stiff upper lip” which, even if it wasn’t necessarily a reality among the general population, is surely a noble aspiration? And then of course, the good doctor launches into the trendy delusional lefty meme of “capitalism is dead”:

The point is that people have been sold a lie since the 1970s. They were promised the earth and now they’re worried about everything – their jobs, their homes, their bank, their money, their pension. This is saying, look, somebody out there knows what’s going on, and it’ll be all right”.

Outside the cosy publicly funded academic bubble, however, it seems that, far from being a reaction to the financial Armageddon, the poster has been selling steadily since, errr, 2001 when the proprietors of Barter Books in Northumberland, having found an old copy, started to sell reprints of it.

It seems some in the media are still getting worked up into a panic over the current recession. Perhaps those reporting on the poster’s success should heed its message.


One response to “Keep Calm and Carry On

  1. drbexl June 28, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Hi, the poster has been selling steadily, as you say, since 2001, but I believe that it’s only really exploded since November 2008! The information about the history of the poster comes from my PhD thesis, check out more:

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