IT WAS a five-word phrase designed to steel Britain’s resolve in the event of Nazi invasion.
Two and a half million copies of the striking bold red poster “Keep Calm and Carry On” were printed by the government to be distributed as part of a morale-boosting propaganda campaign in the early days of the Second World War – but never distributed.
Until now, only two original copies of the iconic posters have been known to exist outside of the British National Archives.
But a potentially valuable collection of original posters has now come to light in the hands of the family of William Turnbull, a former member of the Royal Observer Corps (ROC) in Edinburgh.
The remarkable story of the discovery of the “extraordinary hoard” of posters will be aired this Sunday on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, which was filmed in St Andrews.
Mr Turnbull was given about 15 of the posters by the War Office when he was an ROC member in the capital during the war. But by the time he took possession of them, the threat of a German invasion had evaporated and he simply kept them rolled up in an elastic band at his home.
He later gave them to his daughter Morag, who lives in Cupar. She kept them in a protective poster tube but only realised their significance after taking them to Antiques Roadshow experts during the programme’s visit to St Andrews University.
Expert Paul Atterbury told Miss Turnbull that she was “probably sitting on the world’s only stock” of the famous posters. He revealed that the posters, measuring 45ins by 32ins, are likely to be worth several thousands of pounds.
Mrs Turnbull, 52, said: “I have never really thought much about the posters until recently when I took them to the Antiques Roadshow and was just gobsmacked by the response. There are approximately 15 in the pile but I haven’t counted them properly because I have been scared of damaging them.
“It’s incredible to think that I could have the remaining stock of these original posters. They are very iconic and the design is so simple.”
She added: “The slogan is quite appropriate for my own personal circumstances because I have recently lost my job and am desperately looking for another one.
“I may keep hold of the posters for a few years and sell them for a pension fund.”
Mr Turnbull would have put up the posters in public places such as shop windows and bus stops had the Nazi threat not evaporated.
Mrs Turnbull said: “He was a town planner and just kept the posters rolled up and stored along with lots of plans he worked on.
“It was only because the design and slogan has become so popular in the last few years that I took them to the Antiques Roadshow.”
The Keep Calm and Carry On poster was one of a series of three produced by the Ministry of Information in preparation for the widely expected German invasion of Britain. Each featured the Crown of King George VI.
The other posters proclaimed “Freedom is in Peril – Defend It With All Your Might” against a green background, and “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory”, against a blue background.
The copyright for the original artwork expired many years ago. Since then the Keep Calm design has been featured on millions of posters, tea towels and coffee mugs.
Mr Atterbury told Mrs Turnbull on the show: “The Germans are about to invade Britain and there was a real fear that that was actually going to happen. Of course, September 1940, invasion off, posters useless – in the bin.
“Everyone has forgotten – from the reproductions – that there actually was an original.
“This is the original and now you’re probably sitting on the world’s stock of original “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters. You have the monopoly.”