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Keep Calm and Carry On


In the Spring of 1939, with war against Germany all but inevitable, the British Government’s Ministry of Information commissioned a series of propaganda posters to be distributed throughout the country at the onset of hostilities. It was feared that in the early months of the war Britain would be subjected to gas attacks, heavy bombing raids and even invasion. The posters were intended to offer the public reassurance in the dark days which lay ahead.

The intent of the poster was to convey a message from the King to his people, to assure them that ‘all necessary measures to defend the nation were being taken’, and to stress an ‘attitude of mind’ rather than a specific aim. On the eve of a war which Britain was ill-equipped to fight, it was not possible to know what the nation’s future aims and objectives would be.

At the end of August 1939 three designs went into production. The first poster, of which over a million were printed, carried a slogan suggested by a civil servant named Waterfield. Using the crown of King George VI as the only graphic device, the stark red and white poster read ‘Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution will Bring Us Victory’. A similar poster, of which around 600,000 were issued, carried the slogan ‘Freedom is in Peril’. But the third design, of which over 2.5 million posters were printed, simply read ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.

The first two designs were distributed in September 1939 and immediately began to appear in shop windows, on railway platforms, and on advertising hoardings up and down the country. But the ‘Keep Calm’ posters were held in reserve, intended for use only in times of crisis or invasion. Although some may have found there way onto Government office walls, the poster was never officially issued and so remained virtually unseen by the public - unseen, that is, until a copy turned up more than fifty years later in a box of dusty old books bought in auction. Shop owners Stuart and Mary Manley (of Barter Books - Alnwick), liked the poster so much that they had it framed and placed near the till in their shop. It quickly proved popular with customers and attracted so many enquiries that Stuart and Mary decided to print and sell a facsimile edition which has since become a best-seller, both in the bookstore and online. Lead designer Ben Farleigh at Yes No Maybe was one of the early customers of the poster. He absolutely fell in love with the print the moment he laid eyes on it, and insisted in travelling to Barter Books to see the original and seeing as they were the only known keeper of the poster… seek their official approval! Barter Books, the home of the original Keep Calm and Carry On poster, fully endorsed the Yes No Maybe Keep Calm and Carry On T-Shirts and Clothing range, and have started stocking the YNM Shirts. Yes No Maybe in turn became an official stockist of the poster.

“The poster was a major medium in a way that it isn’t now,” says Professor Jim Aulich, an expert in propaganda art at Manchester Metropolitan University. “It wasn’t competing with television. It was one of the main ways of reaching people, through billboards and on public transport. This slogan speaks to people’s personal neuroses. It’s not ideological, it’s not urging people to fight for freedom like some propaganda posters did.”

UPDATE: Keep Calm and Clarify: Barter Books Popularised the Keep Calm and Carry On poster, having unearthed one at the bottom of a box of books bought at auction

Then Yes No Maybe started printing, marketing, selling the T shirts with the iconic print as part of the A/W Yes No Maybe collection in 2005, (as was MHI, independently, on the other side of london) and then it all went a bit wild.

There was then a deluge of other T shirt producers who recognised this graphic -powerful, beautiful, abstract, soothing, alliterating, succinct, hand drawn, slightly irregular font, the crown - super-British with stiff upper lip sentiment, that speaks to people in time of crisis (seems like that’s always these days!) McClaggan Smith were making lovely mugs (we stock them too) Keep Calm Gallery were making sweet, hand printed posters, EVERYONE was jumping on board.

The point is that it’s wonderful and nobody owns it. It’s in the public domain. How can you trademark something you didn’t create ? or do first? Or adapt? Just because you put your “Life and Soul” into something - that doesn’t make it yours.

We have designed hundreds of original and licenced garments, but this one was in the public domain that generated some of the most attention. So We Kept printing them! And others started printing them - on cafepress and other sites that allow you to upload your artwork and become a T shirt “shop” instantly.

And our orders really increased for the print- It became one of our best sellers and we produced them in increasingly bigger volumes. We knew that this print was in the public domain - out of copyright etc, and we learned a lot from the history composed by Dr. Bexl - (links to follow)

When we discovered that keepcalm& had been snapped up and was trading we checked it out and was disturbed to find a site that looked VERY similar to ours.

We also saw colour choices for prints and T shirts had been copied and our suppliers too! The product was virtually indistinguishable to ours.

Then we delved deeper and found that the Terms and conditions on their site had the same spelling mistakes that I had made in ours!

We tried sending them an email requesting they stop it and generate some new ideas - though when we were told to where stick it, we realised that the flipside of using the print without any Copyright (which legal counsel had told us was impossible) was that everyone else was perfectly welcome to also. We wanted to instigate proceedings against the proprietors of KeepCalm& for passing off, as we felt like he was capitalizing on our hard work and marketing we had been doing until he started - but it would be hard to prove how many sales we actually lost from people looking for a YNM Keep Calm T they had seen - on a celebrity, or a stranger in the street even - we had sold thousands before the competition existed. Fact.

And that’s business, you say. Fair enough. All our other prints are licensed from designers or artists, and we would sue if somebody copied them.

So the ‘Keep Calm situation simply became: outperform the competition. Great! I mean - frustrating, but that’s business - It meant our Keep Calm collection had to sell at a more competitive price than the rest of our range, and we had to invent interesting new twists: Nail stud prints, a Halloween edition, and of course all carry the Yes No Maybe brand logo on the neck and woven label at the bottom. For authenticity - So they can be identified as a YNM original.

That’s how we can spot Rupert Grint at a Harry Potter premiere in one of ours and Katie Price wearing one of ours in the tabloids

Rupert in YNM

Marc Coop on the news was ridiculous.

The fact is, he was not responsible for popularising the slogan. He is just part of a larger group of people (also with families and “interests” to support) who profit in one way or another from this Meme that captured the mood of the nation.

The Sun printed the slogan on the front page during the football. The Hasidic Jews are using it as their slogan this Yom Kippur. The Police used it for their advertss. So do TK MAXX and it’s on pretty much anything you can merchandise.

I happen to think that ours is the best - in terms of quality, value, and heritage. ships worldwide.

The UK trade mark application made by Koop in 2007 was, quite rightly, thrown out by the Intellectual Property Office. and with enough support any legal claims that Marc Coop has with regard to a trademark on the slogan will be overturned.

We were printing, marketing and selling merchandise with the Keep Calm and Carry On print since we bought our poster from Barter Books in July 2005 and we have proof of our worldwide online and wholesale orders dating back to 2006.

click the link to jump to our lovely micro site: KeepCalmLondon Just because he printed a lot of T shirts and bought in a bunch of merchandise, it doesn’t give him any right to Monopolise this British Wartime slogan.

The best part of all this is that I am constantly reminded to stay composed by this poster above my desk… so it will all work out ok. We have the good guys on our side!

Be a good Guy and sign this petition: takes 30 seconds:

References: Lewis, R M, ‘Undergraduate Thesis: The planning, design and reception of British home front propaganda posters of the Second World War’: Written April 1997. and Stuart Hughes, BBC News 4 Feb 09 “Keep Calm and Carry On - The best motivational slogan ever?”

Buy it now (frame is part of the print, not a real gilded wooden frame)

Keep Calm and Carry On Poster

Poster Size: 60cm × 42 cm (23.5” x 16.5” approx.)

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For more information about the poster visit Barter Books.

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