It was a time with echoes of today − the economy was weak, the national debt was high and Britain was a country full of anxiety and despondency.
Against this backdrop, five young typists at Colt Ventilation and Heating Ltd in Surbiton, Surrey, unintentionally set the campaign ball rolling.
The company sent out a staff memo saying that the country’s balance of payments deficit would disappear overnight if the working population would put in a five and a half day week without asking for extra pay, and the five typists duly volunteered.
Within a week, the typists were media celebrities and the I’m Backing Britain campaign was born.
They were roundly congratulated for their patriotic act and Prince Philip sent them a telegram saying, ‘It was the best news I’ve heard’.
Prime Minister Harold Wilson also wrote to say that the campaign ‘was a helpful and robust response to the gloom and near defeatism after devaluation’.
The country was soon awash with badges, mugs, flags and t-shirts and the recently appointed Poet Laureate, Cecil Day-Lewis (father of Daniel), penned the poem, Now and Then, comparing the spirit in the country to that of the Blitz.
Despite the initial patriotic enthusiasm, the campaign wavered as the country’s natural cynicism prevailed. The last nail in the coffin was the wholesaler in London who bought his I’m Backing Britain t-shirts from Portugal because British manufacturers were uncompetitive.
By August, the original five Britain backers of Surbiton were rarely working extra hours and support for the campaign had turned to ridicule.
The film Carry On Up The Khyber was released that summer and ends with the Union Flag being raised with the I’m Backing Britain slogan on it. Peter Butterworth as Brother Belcher turns to camera and says: ‘Of course, they’re all raving mad you know!’
As a reminder that things can indeed get worse, here is Bruce Forsyth singing I’m Backing Britain: