Where the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster came from

Here's the backstory behind the iconic "Keep Calm and Carry On" posters. Though 2.5 million were printed, they were never officially issued as they were reserved for crisis or invasion. 50 years later, Barter Books of Northumberland discovered a copy of the poster in a box of books from auction, and framed and hung it. They started selling copies a year later, and the rest is history.

The Story of Keep Calm and Carry On (via Kottke)


  1. I’ve seen a (clearly very old) plaque bearing the same phrase outside London Bridge train station (round the corner a bit, near the lift exit if I remember correctly) – so I’m a little dubious of this claim.

    EDIT: Of course it’s possible it had a similar but different phrase on it – memory is a bit shaky like that – but I’m pretty sure.

  2. It’s a great bookshop; you should visit, not least to see the authors mural, the light fitting in the waiting room, and sundry other delights. The owners qualify as happy mutants.

    Theirs is not the only copy of the original; others exist. But their claim to fame as first in the business of reproducing it is unassailable.

    Unhappily, there is more. An “unbelievable prat” by the name of Mark Coop has registered “Keep Calm and Carry On” as a EU trademark, and is seeking the same for the US and Canada … and has already forced a number of vendors of KC&CO merchandise off sites like Amazon. See, for instance http://www.theawl.com/2011/10/keep-calm-and-carry-on-trademark-fight … very sad and ugly.

  3. What a gorgeous bookshop. Almost makes me willing to get on an airplane again!


  4. My fiancee’s mother lives near here and we go frequently.  Such lovely people.  Such a wonderful place.  Everyone should be able to experience this amazing bookshop and wonder ful people inside.

  5. I have a really intense negative reaction to that poster. I find it trite and oppressive. I think it’s fine to think otherwise and do understand the historical moment it came from but personally I find it almost physically upsetting. I must sound pretty crazy, oh well I’m glad other people can enjoy it and make forcefully uplifting videos about it.

    1.  It does seem a bit Orwellian in tone: You will keep calm, You will carry on! Never mind the victims blitzed to bits on the street, move along!
      I can take it either this way, or the positive way it was intended, so I guess I’m a little more flexible.

      1. Just don’t talk about the class system, there’s a good bloke . . . yeah, that quietism always disgusted me, and to see it resurrected during the War on Terror: quiet proles, there’s shopping to be done.

      2. I actually have a really positive gut response to it, but that’s mostly because here in the US ca. 2001, our government started a propaganda campaign to the effect of “freak out, yield all your civil liberties to us, and look the other way as we commit unspeakable atrocities in your name”, although they didn’t have the foresight to put that on a sweet poster.

        1. I’m totally with you. If the US Government had released this poster with the DOD or DHS seal and followed its spirit, increased our security while being respectful of our rights, and cut way back on the atrocities, I’d be the first one to say GWB was a truly great president.

          And wow, this poster was considered so powerful it was kept in reserve as a propaganda superweapon. I never knew.

    2.  I have a really intense negative reaction to that poster. I find it trite and oppressive. 

      This article is the first time I’ve seen the poster (maybe it hasn’t proliferated outside the UK) and that was my reaction too. I thought for sure sure it would be used ironically or satirically to criticize an overbearing and manipulative government. It seems (based on my reading of wikipedia) that most people mean it seriously and inspirationally. That’s great! Whatever works.

      1.  It has proliferated widely outside the UK. I’ve seen it in the US all over the place in NY and CA, though I admit you might be less likely to find it the further you get from the coasts. I’ve also seen it in Asia and in Canada (which I guess you might expect) and yeah, I saw it in London too.

        Your thought that it would be used ironically or satirically is of course correct – I’ve seen it used that way both in its original form and with altered text.

        I’ve attached an image of the BBC’s James May from his series Man Lab with an example I particularly like (and which I think would be great for the BB shop…): Get Excited and Make Things

  6. I understand what some of the commentators above are saying about it being “Orwellian” or “trite” or “oppressive” – I really do. I also have that feeling, in a way. 

    But as a 30-something bloke who was raised by people who lived through that era, it really does touch me. 

    Even today my family live by that maxim – although they almost certainly never saw it in poster form (or any other). 

    Every time I see it, I think of my dearly-departed Gran and Grandad, who met in the East End during the Blitz. 

    My Gran’s mum hated my Grandad, and they lived a fair few miles apart. But he used the darkness of the blackout and the chaos of the bombardment to steal moments with her. 

    He used to describe walking through Tottenham, as buildings exploded to the left and right of him, with no other thought than seeing his love. 

    He proposed to her at the height of a raid. My Gran’s mother had discovered him lurking outside the air raid shelter at the end of the garden, and tried to send him packing at the end of a broom. He stood his ground, and as the explosions got closer and closer, told the old bag (in no uncertain terms) that he was going to marry her daughter and there was nothing she could do to stop him. 

    He always said he was more scared of his future mother-in-law than the bombs exploding all round him.

     They married on Christmas Day, 1942. A good day to get married: Extra rations for the wedding reception, and a good chance of a bomb-free day. 

    They were both dead before that poster came to light, but I’m sure they’d’ve both sworn blind they’d seen it before. As I say, whether they put it in those exact words or not, they lived by that maxim right to the end.

    PS – The reason my Grandad was in London, and not in some military barracks somewhere, was because he was already working in the aviation industry when the war started, so wasn’t called up. His job was wiring up Spitfires and Hurricanes and the like. When the Battle of Britain hotted up he was put onto a piece rate (so much per plane) and for a while was a very wealthy young man. In those times there wasn’t much to spend your cash on, so he bought one of the old Morgan three-wheelers. He had great stories about driving to work (in Luton, I think) casting his eyes to the heavens to make sure he was still outrunning the German bombers hoving into view! 

    PPS – hooray, my first post on my favourite site, it’s only taken me four or five years!

    1. And a hell of a post it is, too!  Thanks for telling the story… do write more!

    2. wow, this resulting discussion really has made me feel better about the whole thing. Something I assumed was just a shallow object thrust into my world by aesthetic obsessed bloggers is actually a quite multi-faceted and interesting cultural device. Just goes to show you how important a bit of honest discourse can be.

  7. Although I get the Orwellian overtones, the phrase works for me. I think that’s because the sentiment really does address the way many British people think of our good qualities.  I’m glad the poster overtook the old meme for it, which many boingers know, I’m sure – it was “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way”.

    Weird, I’ve just looked that up and apparently Pink Floyd stole the line from Henry David Thoreau, and added the “English”. The things you learn on the internets. 

  8. So bored of all these unfunny parodies cropping up.

    We need to bring back the original. But actually the Brits (and I say this being one) need: “Keep calm and shut the hell up.”

  9. A colleague bought me a mug for Christmas.  The mug says ‘Keep Calm and Make Tea’.  It’s in the wrong typeface.

    I came close to smashing it, before realising she had actually put a lot of thought into the gift (I collect propaganda as a hobby, and drink tea) and I should stop being a grumpy prick about it.

    However…. this shit has gone too far. Someone needs to bring in Samuel L Jackson to sort it out, like he did with those snakes.

Comments are closed.