Ronald Searle, artist, limner of St Trinian’s and St Custard’s, died on December 30th, aged 91. Nigel Molesworth of St Custard’s writes
Jan 14th 2012 | from the print edition
ART is for weeds and sissies whose mater hav said Take care of my dear little Cedric, he is delicate you kno and cannot stand a foopball to the head. Whenever anebode mention Art they all sa gosh mikelangelo leenardo wot magnificent simetry of line. Shurely the very pinnackle of western civilisation etc.etc. Pass me my oils Molesworth that I may paint my masterpeece. The headmaster sa gosh cor is that the medeechi venus hem-hem a grate work so true to life reminds me of young mrs filips enuff said.
Molesworth sa on the contry the most beatiful form in art is a Ronald Searle GURL from St Trinian’s in a tunick with black suspenders and armed with a hockey stick to beat the daylites out of another gurl or maybe just a teacher chortle chortle. Mr Searle sa he hav based her on his sister Olive. She hav wild platts and an empty gin bottle in her pocket a sack of poysinous todestools two sticks of dynamite and possibly a hippo on a lede while an old crone alias a teacher sa from a window Elspeth put that back AT ONCE. Or she will be sharpening a massiv knife on a grinder with grusome heads of gurls on a shelf behind and the headmistres will be telling the surprized parent this is Rachel, our head gurl, ha ha ha. We offer every attention to your prescious chicks including drunken orgeys wiches sabbaths every form of the subjunctive in fr. or lat. and coffin-making for a modest charge.
The luvely creaturs of St Trinian’s so pleased the publick that Mr Searle sa, people think I have drawn nothing else, I am sick to dethe of them, so he began in 1953 to draw from Geoffrey Willans words the farest forms of St Custard’s, viz, Peason my grate frend who hav a haircut like a chimney brush, fotherington-tomas with curlie hair who believe in fairies, Molesworth 2 my younger bro who is uterly wet and a weed and Grimes the headmaster, alias soho sammy with a face of evil unparralled. Not to mention Me n. molesworth brave and feerless wot a noble BOY in his yellow blazer and his cap at a rakkish angle, a gift to Art with the lite of geenius gleeming from his glasses and an expreshun that strike fear into every teacher in the skool. Mr Searle hav drawn too the charming scenes of the place, viz, the headmaster’s office with escape runways, the many varities of Kane one with telescopic sights, the Glurk and Lesser Titwort as found in Botany, the hairy gerund as found in lat. chiz chiz, Matron smoking in her room ahem, a corner of the playing fields with pouring rane and a ghastly THING with many feet and claws that is Molesworth 1 about to curse the skool for EVER.
Mr Searle left skool at 15 cheers cheers. He was office boy for a solicitors but he could not stop drawing, even on leegal dokuments scratch scratch, is that a kartoon you have done my lad, yes it is a fantasy of the future Molesworth, wot a horrible thing I think you had better leave. Cambridge Art Skool and then in the war camooflaging pill-boxes as haystacks, how about sum more straw round the doorway, perhaps a dunghill outside, how artistick feel free.
A mistery voyage to Singapore then followed drawing all the way, but then come the Japs invading, Boom KABOOM!! ack-ack-ack-ack-ack, motorbikes roring by, urum-urum-urum-uraaaaaa, too late, into prison camp, still drawing. He staid four yeres there and was six stone when he left. A wunder he could smile agane after seeing men die all around him from cholera or torchure with bodes like sticks, but what he drew afterwards had a savvage melankoly underneath it as the art master sa, old majors with large noses and small handkerchiefs, dogs that are undoutedly plotting an evil dede, lugubrioos couples dancing hem-hem, criket bats and balls killing players at a single blo, a man catching music like flys in a jar, a child-hater selling balloons that carry the pathetik little weeds far away.
Yet in 1961 tired of drawing for Punch or roming America for Holiday magazine he zoomed across to France, where there were long thin men in berets long thin loaves of bred and many swurly balconys besides the usual sad dogs, maniack cats, mademoiselles with long eyelashes ahem who sa, how about a good time will you have a glas of Champagne. And he looking autour de lui sa Houp-la I am so happy here pore as a mouse in my attick in Paris and then on my hilltop in Provence, I will never return to boring old Blighty, but I will work for Le Monde and Le Figaro Littéraire, and also Life and the New Yorker. For I recall that for my first t.v. over there I was paid $1,000 a minit, super smashing good show. And he drew New York City as per ushual very tall and thin and inky humans with bodies still like sticks scowling among the skycrapers but also collossal painted butterflys flutering by, hullo clouds, hullo sun, and giant flowers of many coluours sprowting out of desks. And his Nature was v. grand and beattful red and blue while the spiky tarts and bisnessmen raced round not seing it or ruining it all.
And speking of Life, sa silently the long black undertaker in his tall black hat sitting by the grave, I do not think much of that as a titel for a magazine, why not Dethe, but Dethe where is thy sting, where Grave thy victory cry Molesworth (over the WHACK of the Kane), when everbode still kepe larffing at the world Mr Searle hav made.
|Born||3 March 1920 |
|Died||30 December 2011 (aged 91) |
Draguignan, Var, Provence, France
Ronald William Fordham Searle CBE, RDI (3 March 1920 – 30 December 2011) survived the notorious Death Railway while a prisoner-of war of the Japanese in the Second World War to become a well known artist and satirical cartoonist.
Searle was born in Cambridge, England, where his father was a porter at Cambridge Railway Station. He started drawing at the age of five and left school at the age of 15. He trained at Cambridge College of Arts and Technology (now Anglia Ruskin University) for two years.
In April 1939, realizing that war was inevitable, he abandoned his art studies to enlist in the Royal Engineers. In January 1942, he was stationed in Singapore. After a month of fighting in Malaya, Singapore fell to the Japanese, and he was taken prisoner along with his cousin Tom Fordham Searle. He spent the rest of the war a prisoner, first in Changi Prison and then in the Kwai jungle, working on the Siam-Burma Death Railway. Searle contracted both beri-beri and malaria during his incarceration, which included numerous beatings, and his weight dropped to less than 40 kilograms. He was liberated in late 1945 with the final defeat of the Japanese.
He married the journalist Kaye Webb in 1947; they had twins, Kate and Johnny. In 1961, he moved to Paris, leaving his family and later marrying Monica Koenig, a painter, theatre and jewellery designer. After 1975, Searle and his wife lived and worked in the mountains of Haute Provence.
Searle died on 30 December 2011, aged 91.
Early work as war artist
Although Searle published the first St Trinian's cartoon in the magazine Lilliput in 1941, his professional career really begins with his documentation of the brutal camp conditions of his period as a prisoner-of-war of the Japanese in World War II in a series of drawings that he hid under the mattresses of prisoners dying of cholera. Searle recalled, "I desperately wanted to put down what was happening, because I thought if by any chance there was a record, even if I died, someone might find it and know what went on." But Searle survived, along with approximately 300 of his drawings. Liberated late in 1945, Searle returned to England where he published several of the drawings in fellow prisoner Russell Braddon's The Naked Island. Another of Searle's fellow prisoners later recounted, "If you can imagine something that weighs six stone or so, is on the point of death and has no qualities of the human condition that aren’t revolting, calmly lying there with a pencil and a scrap of paper, drawing, you have some idea of the difference of temperament that this man had from the ordinary human being."
Most of these drawings appear in his 1986 book, Ronald Searle: To the Kwai and Back, War Drawings 1939-1945. In the book, Searle also wrote of his experiences as a prisoner, including the day he woke up to find a dead friend on either side of him, and a live snake underneath his head:
- "You can’t have that sort of experience without it directing the rest of your life. I think that’s why I never really left my prison cell, because it gave me my measuring stick for the rest of my life... Basically all the people we loved and knew and grew up with simply became fertiliser for the nearest bamboo."
At least one of his drawings is on display at the Changi Museum and Chapel, Singapore, but the majority of his originals are in the permanent collection of the Imperial War Museum, London, along with the works of other POW artists. The best known of these are John Mennie, Jack Bridger Chalker, Philip Meninsky and Ashley George Old.
Magazines, books, and films
Searle produced an extraordinary volume of work during the 1950s, including drawings for Life, Holiday and Punch. His cartoons appeared in The New Yorker, the Sunday Express and the News Chronicle. He compiled more St Trinian's books, which were based on his sister's school and other girls' schools in Cambridge. He collaborated with Geoffrey Willans on the Molesworth books (Down With Skool!, 1953, and How to be Topp, 1954), and with Alex Atkinson on travel books. In addition to advertisements and posters, Searle drew the title backgrounds of the Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder film The Happiest Days of Your Life.
After moving to Paris in 1961, he worked more on reportage for Life and Holiday and less on cartoons. He also continued to work in a broad range of media and created books (including his well-known cat books), animated films and sculpture for commemorative medals, both for the French Mint and the British Art Medal Society. Searle did a considerable amount of designing for the cinema, and in 1965, he completed the opening, intermission and closing credits for the comedy film Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. In 1975, the full-length cartoon Dick Deadeye, or Duty Done was released. It is based on the character and songs from H.M.S. Pinafore. Animated by a number of artists both British and French, it is considered by some to be his greatest achievement, although Searle himself detested the result.
In 2010, he gave about 2,200 of his works as permanent loans to Wilhelm Busch Museum Hannover (Germany), now renamed Deutsches Museum für Karikatur und Zeichenkunst. The ancient Summer palace of George 1st, this Museum holds Searle's archives.
Searle received much recognition for his work, especially in America, including the National Cartoonists Society's Advertising and Illustration Award in 1959 and 1965, the Reuben Award in 1960, their Illustration Award in 1980 and their Advertising Award in 1986 and 1987. Searle was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2004. In 2007, he was decorated with one of France's highest awards, the Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur, and in 2009, he received the German Order of Merit.
His work has had a great deal of influence, particularly on American cartoonists, including Pat Oliphant, Matt Groening, Hilary Knight, and the animators of Disney's 101 Dalmatians. In 2005, he was the subject of a BBC documentary on his life and work by Russell Davies.
- Hurrah For St Trinians, 1948
- The Female Approach: The Belles of St. Trinian's and Other Cartoons, 1950
- Back To The Slaughterhouse, and Other Ugly Moments, 1951
- The Terror of St Trinian's, or Angela's Prince Charming, 1952 (with Timothy Shy (D. B. Wyndham-Lewis))
- Souls in Torment, 1953 (preface by Cecil Day-Lewis)
- The St Trinian's Story, 1959 (with Kaye Webb)
- St Trinian's: The Cartoons, 2007
- St. Trinian's: The Entire Appalling Business, 2008
- Down With Skool!: A Guide to School Life for Tiny Pupils and Their Parents, 1953 (with Geoffrey Willans)
- How to be Topp: A Guide to Sukcess for Tiny Pupils, Including All There is to Kno About Space, 1954 (with Geoffrey Willans)
- Whizz for Atomms: A Guide to Survival in the 20th Century for Fellow Pupils, their Doting Maters, Pompous Paters and Any Others who are Interested, 1956 (with Geoffrey Willans) Published in the U.S. as Molesworth's Guide to the Atommic Age
- Back in the Jug Agane, 1959 (with Geoffrey Willans)
- The Compleet Molesworth, 1958 (collection) Molesworth (1999 Penguin reprint)
- White Coolie, 1947 (with Ronald Hastain)
- This England 1946-1949, 1949 (edited by Audrey Hilton)
- The Stolen Journey, 1950 (with Oliver Philpot)
- An Irishman's Diary, 1950 (with Patrick Campbell)
- Dear Life, 1950 (with H. E. Bates)
- Paris Sketchbook, 1950 (with Kaye Webb)
- A Sleep of Prisoners, 1951 (with Christopher Fry)
- Life in Thin Slices, 1951 (with Patrick Campbell)
- The Naked Island, 1952 (with Russell Braddon)
- It Must be True, 1952 (with Denys Parsons)
- London—So Help Me!, 1952 (with Winifred Ellis)
- The Diverting History of John Gilpin, 1953 (after William Cowper)
- Looking at London and People Worth Meeting, 1953 (with Kaye Webb)
- The Dark is Light Enough, 1954 (with Christopher Fry)
- Patrick Campbells Omnibus, 1954 (with Patrick Campbell)
- The Journal Of Edwin Carp, 1954 (edited by Richard Haydn)
- Modern Types, 1955 (with Geoffrey Gorer)
- The Rake's Progress, 1955
- Merry England, Etc, 1956
- Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, 1956 (with Angus Wilson)
- The Big City or the New Mayhew , 1958 (with Alex Atkinson)
- The Dog's Ear Book, 1958 (with Geoffrey Willans)
- USA for Beginners, 1959 (with Alex Atkinson)
- Anger of Achilles: Homer's Iliad, 1959 (translation by Robert Graves)
- By Rocking Horse Across Russia, 1960 (with Alex Atkinson)
- Penguin Ronald Searle, 1960
- Refugees 1960, 1960 (with Kaye Webb)
- Which Way Did He Go?, 1961
- A Christmas Carol, 1961 (with Charles Dickens)
- The 13 Clocks and the Wonderful O, 1962 (with James Thurber)
- Searle In The Sixties, 1964
- From Frozen North to Filthy Lucre, 1964
- Haven't We Met Before Somewhere?, 1966
- Searle's Cats, 1967
- The Square Egg, 1968
- Take One Toad, 1968
- This Business of Bomfog, 1969 (with Madelaine Duke)
- Monte Carlo Or Bust, 1969 (with E. W. Hildick)
- Hello, where did all the people go?, 1969
- The Second Coming of Toulouse-Lautrec, 1969
- Secret Sketchbook, 1969
- The Great Fur Opera: Annals of the Hudson's Bay Company 1670-1970, 1970 (with Kildare Dobbs)
- Scrooge, 1970 (with Elaine Donaldson)
- Mr. Lock of St. James's Street, 1971 (with Frank Whitbourn)
- The Addict, 1971
- More Cats, 1975
- Dick Dead Eye, 1975 (after Gilbert and Sullivan)
- Paris! Paris!, 1977 (with Irwin Shaw)
- Zodiac, 1977
- Ronald Searle, 1978
- The King of Beasts & Other Creatures, 1980
- The Situation is Hopeless, 1980
- Winning the Restaurant Game, 1980 (with Jay Jacobs)
- Too Many Songs by Tom Lehrer With Not Enough Drawings by Ronald Searle, 1981
- Ronald Searle's Big Fat Cat Book, 1982
- The Illustrated Winespeak, 1983
- Ronald Searle in Perspective, 1983
- Ronald Searle's Golden Oldies 1941 - 1961, 1985
- Something in the Cellar, 1986
- To the Kwai and Back: War Drawings 1939-1945, 1986
- Ronald Searle's Non-Sexist Dictionary, 1988
- Ah Yes, I Remember It Well...: Paris 1961-1975, 1988
- Slightly Foxed But Still Desirable: Ronald Searle's Wicked World of Book Collecting, 1989
- Marquis De Sade Meets Goody Two-Shoes, 1994
- The Tales of Grandpa Cat, 1994 (with Lee Wardlaw)
- The Hatless Man, 1995 (with Sarah Kortum)
- A French Affair : The Paris Beat, 1965-1998, 1999 (with Mary Blume)
- Wicked Etiquette, 2000 (with Sarah Kortum)
- Ronald Searle in Le Monde, 2001
- Railway of Hell: A Japanese POW's Account of War, Capture and Forced Labour, 2002 (with Reginald Burton)
- Searle's Cats, 2005 (New and Expanded Edition, all illustrations are new)
- The Scrapbook Drawings", 2005
- Cat O' Nine Tales: And Other Stories, 2006 (with Jeffrey Archer)
- Beastly Feasts: A Mischievous Menagerie in Rhyme, 2007 (with Robert Forbes)
- More Scraps & Watteau Revisited, 2008
- Let's Have a Bite!: A Banquet of Beastly Rhymes, 2010 (with Robert Forbes)
- What! Already?: Searle at 90, 2010
- Les Très Riches Heures de Mrs Mole, 2011
- ^ http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/03/us-britain-searle-idUSTRE8020CT20120103
- ^ Castle, Tim (3 January 2012). "UK artist, St Trinian's creator Searle dies aged 91". Reuters. Retrieved 3 January 2012.
- ^ Monica Searle: The Art of the Necklace Artslant - New York – Retrieved 5 Jan 2012
- ^ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/art-obituaries/8989894/Ronald-Searle.html
- ^ Bill Mauldin review of To the Kwai — And Back
- ^ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/art-obituaries/8989894/Ronald-Searle.html
- ^ "Antonio Pisanello - 23rd FIDEM Congress Medal". Sculpture. Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 2007-09-01.
- ^ Medals created for the British Art Medal Society
- ^ "Dick Deadeye, or Duty Done (1975)", Time Out Film Guide, accessed 7 May 2009
- ^ http://www.debretts.com/people/biographies/browse/s/7531/Ronald+William.aspx
- ^ http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=e5OvrSJwPOUC&pg=PA26&dq=ronald+searle+pat+oliphant&hl=en&sa=X&ei=bwoDT-SDLo6S8gOr7vGuAQ&ved=0CDQQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false
- ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbrLnoXdaLg
- ^ http://articles.nydailynews.com/1999-05-23/entertainment/18102454_1_vincente-minnelli-absolutely-essential-eloise-hooray
- ^ http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=HBgRAQAAMAAJ&q=101+dalmatians+ronald+searle&dq=101+dalmatians+ronald+searle&hl=en&sa=X&ei=VgwDT8Yuw6byA_yJhdgB&ved=0CEsQ6AEwAw
- ^ http://www.beatlesinterviews.org/db1968.0606.beatles.html
- ^ The Great Fur Opera illustrated for the Hudson's Bay Company
- "Ronald Searle: a life in pictures". Steve Bell, The Guardian. 9 March 2010.
- "Aged 90, Ronald Searle recalls the bad girls of St Trinian's". Valerie Grove. Times Online. February 20, 2010.
- "St Trinian's creator Searle reaches 90". Nicholas Glass. Channel 4 News. 2 March 2010.
- Interview on BBC Radio 4, Desert Island Discs July 10, 2005
- 1945 illustration - OECD Observer, No 246-247, Dec 2004 - Jan 2005 - (Retrieved 4 Jan 2012)
- Scion of a Noble Line: Interview with Ronald Searle. December 2000.
- Article by Harry Mount, The Spectator, 10 March 2010
- Article by Craig Brown Daily Mail. 8 June 2010
- Der freigezeichnete Gefangene, Wilhelm Platthaus, Frankfurter Allgemeine, 27 February 2010