[I]n the spring of 1939, it was an anonymous civil servant who was entrusted with finding the slogan for a propaganda poster intended to comfort and inspire the populace should, heaven forbid, the massed armies of Nazi Germany ever cross the Channel….
The first [poster], designed to stiffen public resolve ahead of likely gas attacks and bombing raids, was printed in a run of more than a million and read: Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory. The second, identically styled, stated: Freedom Is In Peril….The third… was for the real crisis: invasion. A few may have made their way on to select officials’ walls, but the vast majority of the British public never got to see it. This poster enjoined: Keep Calm And Carry On.
And suddenly these days, it’s everywhere, from homes to pubs to government offices. The Lord Chamberlain’s Office at Buckingham Palace, the prime minister’s strategy unit at No 10, the Serious Fraud Office, the US embassy in Belgium, the vice chancellor of Cambridge University, the Emergency Planning Office at Nottingham council and the officers’ mess in Basra have all ordered posters. Even David Beckham has the T-shirt, we are told.
It really is a terrific piece of work. Whoever came up with the slogan was (at least for five seconds of his or her life) a genius.