E is for Edwin Embleton

This is my contribution to Round Eleven of ABC Wednesday and again I am focusing on people, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten.

Keep Calm and Carry OnNo-one knows who came up with this iconic phrase from WWII in Britain, but we do know who was responsible for turning it into the poster that we are all familiar with.

Edwin Embleton was a graphic designer who was born in Hornsey, London in 1907 and at the outbreak of war in 1939 he was studio manager at Odham’s Press.

He was seconded to the Ministry of Information as Art Director and Studio Manager in charge of the visual aspect of all home and overseas propaganda, he was given a free hand to commission designs from whichever artists and designers he chose.

The MOI produced many propaganda posters that were intended to maintain the wartime spirit of the population, but the first three were ordered to be uniform in style and use ‘a special and handsome typeface’.

The third was Keep Calm and Carry On and is the one that is best remembered. Which is odd because it was never actually issued.

Although two and a half million copies were printed, they were meant to be used in the event of an invasion that never came. Only one copy survived, turning up in a box of books bought at auction by Barter Books in Northumberland.

The owners of the shop framed and displayed the poster and the interest was so great that in 2001 they began to produce facsimiles. The rest, as they say, is history and a whole range of Keep Calm merchandise is now available.

As for its original creator, Edwin Embleton, at the end of the war he received a letter of thanks from Winston Churchill and was awarded an MBE as he returned to his work at Odham’s Press.

Below is a video which tells more of the story of his poster.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

11 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 15th August 2012

    Interesting. Arthur@AmeriNZ, who participates in ABCW, wrote about the poster, but not its creator.

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  • Rinkly Rimes 15th August 2012

    I loved this! I was a little evacuee in The War, but I never remember any of these posters. The message applies to us all still. Thank you, Edwin AND Roger.

  • Arctic Fox 15th August 2012

    Several times I’d made a mental note to investigate the “keep calm” phenomena…. and several times I hadn’t investigated the “keep calm” phenomena. To be fair, I was beginning to believe it was just a modern idea of what a war poster COULD have been and that it never actually existed…. now, at least, I know!!

  • Trevor Rowley 15th August 2012

    Excellent story, Mr P. A true inspiration to us all.

  • Cowardy Custard Pudding 15th August 2012

    Keep Calm and Carry On? My advice would be to Panic and Run Away!

  • Gattina 15th August 2012

    Very interesting ! what a story ! I didn’t know that at all, but the slogan still fits in our time too !
    ABC Wednesday Team

  • rose 15th August 2012

    Interesting story.

    Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

  • Trevor Rowley 15th August 2012

    Also, we mustn’t forget old Winnie’s maxim, “KBO”, with which he ended all his phone calls. For those of you who aren’t aware, he meant “Keep Buggering On.” Now, that’s a pastime that once carried a prison sentence but perhaps Winnie was confident enough to know that, given that he was running the country at the time, it was hardly likely that anyone was going to remotely consider putting him on a charge.

    PS Don’t forget, there was also “Careless talk costs lives”, “Be like Dad and keep Mum”, and “Walls have ears”.

    PPS “Please support the war effort”

  • rhymeswithplague 15th August 2012

    We didn’t have “Careless talk costs lives” but we did have “Loose lips sink ships”….

    That and “Kilroy was here.”

  • 4joy 15th August 2012

    words to live by….very interesting info

  • Piers Leighton 11th November 2014

    Thanks for the above Mr Parrot. ‘Eddie’ Embleton was my grandfather and while we knew he was responsible for commissioning the slogan / artwork, we had no idea where the image had resurfaced again after all those years. Fascinating stuff – I feel a road trip coming on…


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