Lisa Markwell: Never fear, a wartime slogan's here

From 'Keep Calm and Carry On' to 'Dig for Victory', we cling to old advice

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It's the revival of the moment: the wartime slogan "Keep Calm and Carry On", which is adorning everything from mugs to babygros. We know life is tough, it says, but we're not going to let it get us down.

Indeed, because the poster has succeeded in doing exactly what its original Home Office creators wanted – reach the masses – the revived version is in danger of losing its cachet. Yesterday it came free with one newspaper, and one could almost hear the early adopters ripping theirs down off the kitchen wall.

But hold on: let's not chuck out the whole wartime slogan shtick just yet. Cool-headed directives might be just what we need, rather than clever-clever viral adverts and YouTube manifestos. Our conflicts may be within our own borders but the messages could not be more prescient. In fact, if you look closely at the Metropolitan Police's latest press campaign it craftily uses the font and layout of that 1940s poster to encourage us to give them information about suspicious activity around us. "We'd like to give you a good talking to," it says. Only the red background has been changed to blue.

The whole thing is supposed to instill a wartime sense of community – and they might actually be on to something. Wouldn't we all feel safer if we read, "Your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution will bring us victory" emblazoned on the back of a bus – and then lived by those words?

"Dig for Victory", of course, chimes beautifully with the mood of the times, to say nothing of our sister paper's campaign to get children growing their own vegetables. With waiting lists for allotments at an all-time high and seed packets more collectable than It bags, it seems that we've all woken up to the idea of providing for ourselves, even if it is only a few tomatoes and some knobbly carrots. Victory from the supermarkets' stranglehold on us is as appealing as victory over rising food bills. We're all digging in.

And I'd be happy to be reminded of the Royal Navy's 1940s slogan, "The Signal is Save" when reaching for my purse. I suppose it's too much to ask for Visa or Mastercard to redesign their plastic with that graphic on the front...

Then there's "Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases". Perhaps it's not quite snappy enough to be framed and displayed, but who could argue with that message right now? Anyone with the temerity to sneeze on a train or aeroplane today without catching it in a tissue can expect a Bateman-esque shrinking back of horrified onlookers – and the enforced application of anti-bacterial hand gel and a sachet of travel hankies.

If we've learned one useful, non-sensationalist piece of information from the swine-flu feeding frenzy, it's that germs live on hard surfaces for ages, and that it's deeply grubby to sneeze into your hands and then open doors or grab handrails or push lift buttons is grubby.

The economic downturn is already resulting in less glossily ostentatious advertising on the television and on posters across the country. Wouldn't it be marvellous if it was replaced with gung-ho rallying cries for community spirit and sensible spending? I, for one, would be happy to "Lend a Hand on the Land" if I thought it was neighbourly, rather than a cheap way for the local council to clear scrubby fields.

But if there's one wartime slogan that the most embattled of us all, Gordon Brown, must hope will catch on, it's this: careless talk costs lives. Are you paying attention, Hazel?

l.markwell@independent.co.uk

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