C is for… ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’

As soon as the Second World War broke out, many British civilians were concerned that the country would be inundated with German spies. This belief was further strengthened when the government decided to intern large number of Germans and Austrians, as they were also worried about the presence of a Fifth Column (people working/spying for the enemy) in Britain.

As a result, the Ministry of Information, the department responsible for propaganda, began a campaign titled ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’. The overall aim of the campaign was to discourage the discussion of information sensitive to the war effort. However, the campaign also prevented the spread of rumours which may have negatively impacted morale. Many posters in the series were designed by Cyril Bird, under the pen-name ‘Fougasse’. Often they used simple propaganda, designed to captivate popular support for the war, while others were designed to be funny, so as to not completely demoralise the general public. For example, some showed people having conversions on the bus or in a cafe, with Hitler or his leadership listening in the background, while others used cartoon characters such as Popeye to get the message across.

These creative posters depicted the ways in which information could easily be leaked, to highlight that often one could say something without even thinking about what they were saying, or the consequences that this may have. Despite the comical nature of the posters, they did help people understand the message. The ‘Careless Talk Cost Lives’ campaign was very successful, working because people found the message easy to understand.

The ‘Carless Talk Costs Lives’ campaign had a big influence on American, Canadian and Australian anti-gossip posters. However, American versions included more hard-hitting slogans such as ‘A Carless Word… Another Cross.” Fougasse’s designed were also poplar in France, with his ‘Careless Talk’ designs being published in a February 1940 issue of Paris-Soir.

[Image 1] Pop-Eye the Sailor Man gets tough with Talky, The National Archives, INF 3/252, https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/theartofwar/prop/home_front/INF3_0252.htm

[Image 2] You Never Know Who’s Listening – Careless Talk Costs Lives, Imperial War Museum, Art.IWM PST 0142, https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/9810

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