World War II poster helps raise morale.
By now an iconic image that suggests Britishness almost as well as the much-loved red phone box or postbox, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ was produced by the British government in 1939…but wasn’t seen by the public until almost 60 years later. Because it’s so familiar, it’s hard to imagine that its simple message – so inspiring to so many people in so many ways – might never have been seen.
It’s certainly been an inspirational message to us at Bulletpoint this year, since we, like many other businesses have needed some encouragement during these challenging times. Back in the Summer of 2010 when we were first thinking about what we might do for Christmas (you can’t rush these things), we decided that it was the perfect message to send to our clients. Not only does it allow us to deliver the traditional ‘Season’s Greetings’ approach, it also allows for a reassuring message for businesses throughout 2011. So, the idea was set, and we’ve been toying with it ever since.
In the course of working on the card, the brilliant story behind the original poster has captured our imaginations, and we’d like to share a little bit of it with you now.
A short history lesson
The poster was actually the third in a series of three designs, created by an unknown designer at the Ministry of Information as part of the campaign to boost morale at the beginning of the Second World War.
The first two posters, ‘Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory’ (800,000 printed) and ‘Freedom is in Peril’ (400,000 printed) were issued on the assumption that the events of the first weeks of the war would demoralise the population, and they became a familiar part of the landscape during the early part of the war. The third design, of which 2.5 million copies (we think – different sources estimate differing quantities) were printed, simply read ‘Keep Calm and Carry On.’ Held in reserve, to be put up around the country in the event of a German occupation, this last poster was, of course, never used.
The original posters were designed to have the same graphic device – the royal crown of George VI – and a unique and recognisable lettering style (the closest font/typeface match today being Avenir) with a message from the King to his people. The slogans were created by civil servants, with a chap named Waterfield coming up with ‘Your Courage’ as “a rallying war-cry that will bring out the best in everyone of us and put us in an offensive mood at once.” Hear, hear.
There are only two known surviving examples of the poster ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ in the public domain. One copy is held by wartimeposters.co.uk, the other by Stuart and Mary Manley, the owners of Barter Books, the legendary second-hand bookshop in Alnwick, Northumberland that’s well worth a visit.
“We discovered this original World War II poster in a box of old books a customer had found in his attic. And while the books were only so-so, we all fell in love with the poster. We loved the history behind it. And the way the simplicity of the design matched the simplicity of the message. But what a message! (It makes me feel better just reading it.) Anyway, we immediately had the poster framed and put up on display – where it drew so much comment, we had it reproduced for sale.” – Mary Manley.
A great message for today
Spring 2010 also saw a change of government and the continuation, rather the much-anticipated end, of the ‘credit crunch’. We all knew, expected and even accepted that cuts were inevitable, yet no one knew that the new Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government had hired ‘The Mad Axeman’ from Cutingley, and that much more lay trouble ahead. The combination of the private sector in recession and the speed and severity of the public sector cutbacks (Summer/Autumn 2010) created what I think of as ‘a double whammy’ for many small businesses. (And all this before The Spending Review was to follow in October.) So concerned by this series of unfortunate events, I even made a TV appearance on a BBC1 current affairs programme to voice my views. It made me feel better, anyway.
But fear not, battle-hardened and a real survivor, now in my third recession, Paul (The Bulletman) Kerfoot fights on, delivering messages of fortitude and perseverance to my fellow business people. In the light of this endeavour, I reckon that the message to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ is just about perfect.
And in 2011 with a new focus and emphasis on education, I want to extend my message: to help young people to be more creative and to contribute to projects that help businesses grow and survive. But more of that later.
2010: Year of Truth
2010 was also supposed to be the ‘Year of Creativity’ (what happened, did I miss it?), yet this year was also my ‘Year of Truth’ (a time for full truths, not half-truths). And on the whole, it’s been a real success, being straight with clients (in Yorkshire a spade is more than a spade, it’s often a shovel), mainly giving real, genuine feedback to people that really wanted it – with my professional, mentoring head on.
Yet this was also the year many stopped marketing in the private sector, (by summer the public sector had little choice), and all at a time when we knew we should be doing (and spending) more, yet many were doing the opposite and all were spending less. We took this opportunity to challenge people’s understandable cautiousness about investing in their marketing, with some interesting results so far. But our work is not done yet – the chaos and uncertainty continues…
Government victory v Government waste?
It’s not only today’s government that’s facing uncomfortable choices about public spending. Back in Churchill’s day, with the Battle of Britain threatening the very fabric of the nation, the Cabinet needed to make some tough decisions about what to do in the event of an occupation. Part of this, as we now know, was what message should be sent to the people should this become reality.
Planning for the posters started in April 1939; by June designs were prepared, and by August 1939, they were on their way to the printers, so that they could be put up within 24 hours of an occupation.
(An aside: Great British planning and a ‘sensible’ four months deadline. Hmmm… In 2000 Bulletpoint Design and Bulletprint would have allowed four weeks’ production time, and in 2010 clients would probably expect a poster doing in four days! The only common thing being how short a time the poor old printer gets at the end – that never changes.)
3.7m posters v 34.3m meat rations
But was this whole exercise a good use of public money? (And how familiar does that question sound in 2010?) It’s thought that the printing of the three sets of posters cost £20,600, which calculates at about 56 pence per poster, a lot of money back in 1939. (Over 70 years later the same job would probably cost about a shilling each.) And if you consider the fact that only 1.2 million posters were actually used, the unit cost then rises to a whopping £1.72 each.
By comparison a 100g (4oz) ration of meat (usually bacon and ham) cost about 6p in 1939*. By my maths, the poster budget of £20,600 could have purchased an extra 34.3 million meat rations. Alternatively the cost of just one printed poster could (if there was enough meat to go around), provide an equivalent of approx 9 days’ extra meat rations for one adult.
Had I been at the Ministry of Information in 1939, (no, I’m not that old, but you get the idea) I could have saved the British economy a bob or two here by suggesting to cut back on the printing of posters we may not have needed. (Sensibly having several printers on stand-by combined with an efficient distribution system across Britain would have been a far better, cost-effective solution.) OK, I accept we probably had potato printers back in 1939 and no speedy printing presses or transport systems like we have today, but yet again this seems like more ‘hidden’ waste and yet another government oversight in my opinion, especially when food was so scarce at the time.
*Meat ration example: Bacon and ham 100g (4oz). To the value of 1s.2d (one shilling and sixpence per week. That is about 6p today).
Source: Woodlands Junior School, Kent.
Design Your Own Poster (DYOP)
Anyway, onto a lighter note. Since its re-discovery, this motivational image has enjoyed many parodies, including the rather irreverent ‘Now Panic and Freak Out’. My other favourites are (in no particular order): ‘Keep Calm and Eat a Cupcake’ (my wife started Charlotte’s Creative Cakes in September 2010). Secondly, and as seen on TV ‘Man Lab’, James May (of Top Gear) wearing a green t-shirt: ‘Get Excited and Make Things’. And finally, because of its ‘mild’ local Bradford flavour, ‘Keep Korma and Curry On’.
Since Crown copyright expires on artistic works created by the UK government after 50 years, the original poster design is now firmly in the public domain which is why all these new versions can be created.
So why not join in the fun? Be creative in challenging times. If you feel inspired and motivated, please feel free to have a play and DYO! Why not ‘Design Your Own’ propaganda poster via this link: www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk.
Keep Cool and Be Creative™
They often say: “Creativity is about connecting the unconnected”. And already, great opportunities have come my way as a result of the poster, the recession and the research I’ve done on each. I’m looking at all things in a creative, different way – including from an educational angle. Rich content from this article is soon to be available as a cross-curriculum based project for schools in 2011.
‘Keep Cool and Be Creative™’ will be an interactive workshop for Years 9-11 and 6thformers covering: Math’s, English, History and Art.
I am also in the process of developing a board game. We use real money from the 1940s, some old Monopoly pieces (or toy action figures) and plan to have some ‘red hot tip’ cards packed with creative ideas suitable and relevant for the real world of work. Cool eh?
Innovative, interactive and engaging are the focus of many school projects Paul gets involved with. So, watch out for the next big idea – summerscool™ 2011. Fun, creative and something a little different to help fit the new gap in the education market. Imagine this concept: 20 years business experience shared over 20 days. In this current climate that would be a real challenge.
One of my wife’s, Charlotte’s, favourite films is ‘Carry On Screaming’. You might think that a more fitting movie in these times of recession might be: ‘Carry on Regardless’. But I hope by reading this that you’ve seen that there’s no need to just plod on, regardless. There’s plenty to do, plenty of cause for optimism. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. I’m not saying there won’t be tough choices ahead.
All I’m saying is, watch this creative space. Keep calm and carry on. Be creative, get excited and make things happen.
Paul (The Bulletman) Kerfoot
Design Director, Branding Expert and Creative Thinker – Bulletpoint Design Ltd.
December 17th, 2010
• I wonder what the Germans would have made of Bulletman – a comic book superhero from 1940 – in the same year as The Battle of Britain? Bulletman later reappeared as a 1976 Action Man and again in 2009. Please click here for more information on Who is Bulletman?
To book Paul to speak or to enquire about the educational workshop, ‘Keep Calm and Be Creative™’ please call Paul on: +44(0)8701 221 220 or +44(0)1274 740003. Alternatively you can email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please click here to download a copy of Bulletpoint’s Christmas card message for 2010/11. Adobe Acrobat PDF file.
With thanks to…
Mary Manley at Barter Books
www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk (poster creator)
Mandy Barrow and Woodlands Junior School, Kent
Bob Jones at Education Bradford
BBC1 Look North (See Paul on TV)