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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

The art of Ronald Searle, 1920–2012

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Undertakers. From Punch magazine (undated).

I started trying to draw like Ronald Searle when I was about eight. So there was Jabberwocky and Ronald Searle I was turning into by the time I was thirteen. You know, I was determined to be Lewis Carroll (giggles) with a hint of Ronald Searle.

John Lennon, 1968

Does the late Ronald Searle need any introduction? Everyone knows he created the anarchic schoolgirls of St Trinian’s in the 1940s, although their exploits had the greatest audience in the films based on Searle’s cartoons rather than the original drawings. Searle’s work first came to my attention through reprints of the Molesworth books he produced with Geoffrey Willans in the 1950s—Down with Skool! (1953), How to be Topp (1954), Whizz for Atomms (1956) and Back in the Jug Agane (1959)—a masculine riposte to St Trinian’s which allowed for a broader range of humour than the slapstick and short-skirted salaciousness the films drifted into. The Molesworth books are perhaps best appreciated at age 11 as this LRB review notes; looked at with older eyes all I see is a portrait of a rigidly class-bound nation whose boarding schools, gowned masters, “maters” and “paters” could only inspire affection in the Etonians currently attempting to govern Britain. But the drawings remain a treat: wiry and mordant with flashes of a viciousness that make Searle the godfather of Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman.

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The girls of St Trinian’s, Lilliput magazine, December 1949.

Given Searle’s influence on generations of newspaper cartoonists it’s no surprise that the British papers are being free with the plaudits. Links to various stories follow. The images here are taken from earlier posts or pulled from my bookshelves. The illustration of Engelbrecht below is from the Savoy Books edition of Maurice Richardson’s The Exploits of Engelbrecht which I designed in 2010.

Guardian obituary | Telegraph obituary | NYT obituary
• Ronald Searle in pictures: Telegraph | Guardian
Ronald Searle: a life in pictures by Steve Bell.
Mike Leigh: ‘Ronald Searle was my inspiration’.
Ronald Searle: Now let’s have some fizz: Gerald Scarfe remembers his friend and childhood hero.
Ronald Searle was our greatest cartoonist – and he sent me his pens, says Martin Rowson.

Other links:
Perpetua, the Ronald Searle tribute
Searle at VTS
Winespeak at BibliOdyssey

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Engelbrecht versus Grandfather Clock. From The Exploits of Engelbrecht (1950) by Maurice Richardson.

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“A trap for dere Santa”. From How to be Topp (1954) by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle.

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The Coming of the Great Cat God (1968).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Engelbrecht lives to fight another day
Ronald Searle book covers
Engelbrecht again

 


 

Posted in {art}, {books}, {film}, {illustrators}, {magazines}, {work}.

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4 comments or trackbacks

  1. #1 posted by Anne S

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    And thus passes a great cartoonist; one of my favourites. Love his cat cartoons.

  2. #2 posted by John

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    I feel rather ashamed I don’t have more of his work to hand. I like the cats too, especially the way he wasn’t afraid of drawing big fat moggies.

  3. #3 posted by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

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    Greatly missed. He’d rather gone out of fashion, but anyone who loves masterful draughtsmanship married to wit and insight would instantly recognise that he was a very fine artist indeed. I found the recent remake of Saint Trinians rather hollow, but then I’m not even a fan of the original films. The fantastic spirit of the drawings has always rather eluded the cinema. Searle’s spidery pen and inks of barrel-bodies atop spindly legs and beaky faces peering out of bird-nest hair, are part of a world that is so completely itself that exists better within a ‘graphic’ universe. No corporeal building can imitate his gothic renderings of Saint Trinians. Give me the drawings every time.

  4. #4 posted by Padraig Rooney

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    Searle’s drawings of his time as a prisoner of war on the Kwai river are less well known. A review of his book is here:
    http://www.padraigrooney.com/journalism/ronald_searle.html

 


 

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