Iconic British Things No. 8: A Brief History Of ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’

If you’re into British stuff and have been near an internet over the past couple of years, the dominant meme which has come up time and again, apart from changing the subtitles on Downfall to make it look like Hitler is fed up about some trifling bit of current gossip, has been the Keep Calm and Carry On poster.

Arriving as if from nowhere, the wartime poster, reassuring a soon-to-be-invaded nation that they should not panic if German tanks should roll across Kent and Essex, has been seized upon and twisted into all manner of merchandise. There are Keep Calm And Carry On mugs and notebooks, T-shirts and posters, there are variations on the theme available in every gift shop in the country right now, in all the colors of the rainbow. It has become an iconic British thing in an astonishingly short space of time.

But the true origins of the original poster, and how it came to be made in the first place, and crucially, how no one had really heard of it until the beginning years of the 21st Century, aren’t as well known. And they should be.

Barter Books, the (frankly wondrous-looking) book shop in which the original poster was unearthed, has made a little video explaining its provenance and how they came to get hold of it. And even though the web has taken this one little idea and stretched it so thin you could use it as a sunshade for the moon, once back in its original context, even the font and jaunty red color become suddenly very serious indeed:



Fraser McAlpine

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2. He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage. Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic
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