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Keep Calm

June 15, 2012

Wayne writes: When we scheduled our recent visit to England, we made sure to steer clear of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in early June and the London Olympics in August. The run-up to those events was already in full swing in May, however, as shown in particular by the enormous number of souvenirs on sale in almost every shop. How many of these will still be on sale, I wonder, after the tourists have gone home at summer’s end? Variations of the Queen’s portrait were available on posters, mugs, t-shirts, and so forth, and Union Jacks sprouted everywhere.

Keep Calm and Carry OnAlong with these were countless reproductions of a World War Two poster urging the people of Britain to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. This had been produced in 1939 and was printed in a large quantity, but held in reserve in case the country was invaded, as was long feared. In the end, it was never officially distributed, and most copies have been lost, probably destroyed. It has become well known, however, indeed has become iconic, since the discovery of an original copy in 2000. Presumably, the motto ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ strikes an appropriate note for world society in this turbulent new millennium (and the image is in the public domain, its Crown copyright having expired after fifty years). Barter Books, the firm in Alnwick, Northumberland, that first popularized the poster, have produced a brief film giving its history.

But the merchandising hasn’t stopped there. While in England, I noticed many variations on (or parodies of) the ‘Keep Calm’ theme. For example:

KEEP CALM AND STUDY ON (this was in an Oxford shop)

KEEP CALM AND GO SHOPPING

KEEP CALM AND MAKE TEA

KEEP CALM AND DRINK BEER

KEEP CALM AND EAT CHOCOLATE

KEEP CALM AND HAVE A CUPCAKE

KEEP CALM AND KISS ME (or some other command of this sort, taking ‘carry on’ to mean something other than ‘get on with your life’)

I also noticed an opposing sentiment:

NOW PANIC AND FREAK OUT

A search on the Web turns up countless other adaptations, many of them related to pop culture, such as:

KEEP CALM AND CALL BATMAN

KEEP CALM AND LISTEN TO THE BEATLES

KEEP CALM AND CATCH THE SNITCH (for Harry Potter)

KEEP CALM AND KISS THE DOCTOR (for Doctor Who, with a picture of the TARDIS)

KEEP CALM AND EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE! (with a picture of a Doctor Who Dalek)

And then there are clever adaptations, of which my favorites are:

USE LIBRARIES AND LEARN STUFF

and

KEEP CALM AND TALK TO A LIBRARIAN

Now that’s good advice!

Image: From the Web, a modern reproduction of the poster. Facsimiles tend to be more brightly colored than the surviving originals – one critic observed that a bright red poster isn’t very calming! – and the typeface varies. The original words appear to have been hand-lettered; some reproductions substitute Gill Sans, which may have been the letterer’s model; the copy illustrated is set probably in a version of Futura Bold.

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2 Comments
  1. David Doerr permalink
    June 15, 2012 8:04 pm

    How about this variant: KEEP CALM AND TALK TO A RETIRED LIBRARIAN. That would include my mother-in-law. Or, there is this one: KEEP CALM – TAKE A B-COMPLEX VITAMIN.

    I scored a very good used copy of J.R.R. TOLKIEN – ARTIST AND ILLUSTRATOR in Portland, Oregon recently. It would have been terrible, had this art not been presented for the public to pour over.

  2. geordie permalink
    June 16, 2012 8:18 am

    *wonders what on earth one would pour over a book? Custard?

    Sorry – couldn’t resist! 🙂

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