Ubiquitous really does apply to the Keep Calm logos that have appeared on everything from maternity clothing and mugs to posters and t-shirts. It has been bastardised in many ways: turned candy pink, used to implore you to eat cupcakes and other such nonsense (I have nothing against cupcakes, by the way, as my family will vouch for). The band McFly even had a Keep Calm and Play Louder tour in recent times. When it came to keeping calm and walking Border Terriers, doing Gangnam Style or Taking Care Because YOLO (you only live once; irritating acronym in itself) it appears the logo has well and truly burned out.
But did you know that a bookshop in Northumberland is the reason why the Keep Calm logo has exploded in recent years in gift shops all over the UK? The poster was discovered at the turn of the millennium by Stuart Manley, co-owner of Barter Books in Alnwick, and his wife Mary. The couple framed the poster and hung it by the till. Such was the interest, they began printing copies and selling mugs and tea towels. Mary Manley later said: “I didn’t want it trivialised, but of course now its been trivialised beyond all belief.”
The poster was originally produced in the Second World War, with the aim of improving morale in the event of a national disaster. Luckily no such disaster ever emerged, so it wasn’t released. Perhaps that’s why in austere 21st Century Britain, with the cuts and universal credit, that the slogan has had a sudden renaissance. However, in the early 1940s, other posters containing the much less catchy slogan “Your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution will bring us victory” were made. Hmm, I can’t imagine McFly incorporating that into their next tour.
I was recently at Barter Books in Alnwick. It is interesting in its own right: a former railway station that has morphed into a sprawling second hand book shop, the racks of books where the tracks used to be. It retains the character of a Victorian train station. You feel as if you’re in the waiting room, an extra in Brief Encounter, perhaps, or one of The Railway Children about to venture to a far off part of the country.
We return every year while holidaying in this part of the world. The roaring fire in the cafe – on a drizzling late May Day – added to this aura and led to an extended stay. Barter Books is one of my favourite places in this part of the world when the weather turns nasty.
This is the place where they discovered that the distinctive red Keep Calm posters that were never actually used in wartime. The simple, yet effective, message contained in the posters ensured that they were soon a great hit. We have one of the mugs bought on a trip to BB some time ago.
In Seahouses, about to catch a boat to the Farne Islands to retrace Grace Darling’s footsteps, we saw a window stuffed with Keep Calm mugs in a gift shop. One of my Facebook friends has had a recent rant about how annoyed she is with the logo. I can see her point. Like cupcakes and Justin Bieber, the logos have more than reached overkill and it’s time they were retired, just as shell suits were from the 80s, mullets from the 90s and so on. Time to move on. Let Barter Books do what they do best; sell great value second hand books in a quirky space.
I wonder if they have any regrets about the Keep Calm monster they unleashed when they dusted down the poster. Keep Calm and Find A New Logo.
By Helen Carter