Saturday, 28 October 2006

HELL’S BELLES!

It cost us more money than, at the time, we could really afford, but we both knew that we wanted it and we have never regretted buying it.

The chance to buy one of Ronald Searle’s original ‘St Trinian’s’ cartoons -- caption: “Who’s there?” -- was, for David and I, an opportunity to own something by a great comic artist whose work we both admired...

That was several years ago now, but I look at it every day with renewed delight and with admiration for the artist's superb draughtsmanship.

Now, however, comes the somewhat startling news from St Trinian's (an establishment most of us thought had been closed down or probably blown up!) of the imminent return to the cinema screen of those terrorizers of the British education system.

The witty series of occasional cartoons by Ronald Searle began in the pages of Lilliput in 1941 and proliferating over the next two decades - with an increasing maturity and sophistication of line enhancing a darkly diabolic sensibility that was present from the outset…

Collections of the cartoons began to be published in 1948 with Hurrah for St Trinian’s! And the first (and best) of five feature films, The Belles of St Trinian’s was released in 1954 with Alistair Sim dragged -up and in gloriously funny form as the school’s beleaguered headmistress, Miss Millicent Fritton, and with a superb supporting cast including George Cole, Joyce Grenfell, Hermione Baddeley, Joan Sims, Beryl Reid, Irene Handl and Sim in a second role as Clarence Fritton, Miss F’s feckless bookie brother.

The remake will, according to The Independent, star Rupert Everett as the Frittons siblings and rumour (via The Sunday Express) has it that the gym-slipped demons will be led by Keira Knightley as Head Girl and with Billie Piper, Denise Van Outen and Kylie Minogue possibly brandishing hockey sticks.

According to Mr Everett, the original vision for the cartoons - a mix of innocence and worldliness - is to be “sexed up”. In fact, St Trinian’s new prospective Headmistress is reported as saying:

"I wanted to make the schoolgirls into drug-dealers and prostitutes and what have you. Others disagreed. But in the end it was decided that my way is how it will be."

Allegedly, the new intake of pupils will also be seen indulging in a little "slap'n'tickle" behind the bike sheds rather than the murder and mayhem of their predecessors.

Hmmm… Now doesn’t that sound like a brilliant idea? Not!

Anyway, purists for whom the prospect of Mr Everett in twin-set and pearls chasing Ms Knightley and crew around with a swishy cane is less than enticing, currently have a chance to savour the original wicked wit of Ronald Searle at an exhibition at Chris Beetles Gallery in London.

The works on show (now at prices we really can't afford!) range widely across Searle’s formidable output much of it characterised by the sharp, spiky, scratchy, spindly style that was uniquely his own and which made his reputation.

Included, naturally, are various instances of appalling behaviour by those surly Searly-girls - such as this enthusiastic young zoologist…


“Elspeth! Put that back at once!”



There are a number of pictures from Searle’s advertising portfolio including examples of his long-running 1950’s campaign for Lemon Hart Rum, featuring the angular, yellow-suited connoisseur and his roly-poly friend with a preference for Lamb’s Navy Rum…

There are also examples of the artist’s eagle-eyed theatrical caricatures, several of his later, biting, social satires against corporate America - from computer giants to the moneyed mice of Disneyland - and his consistently telling observations of universal human failings and foibles.

Among the many gems are his illustrations for The Illustrated Winespeak (1983) with its deft depictions of such overblown wine-list phrases as...




“Not a lot of depth but has substance”

Without question, Searle is not simply one of the greatest cartoonists of the post-war era, but also one of its greatest illustrators whose decorations have captured the spirit of such diverse writers as Patrick Campbell, James Thurber and Charles Dickens’ for whom he brilliantly embellished both Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol


And it is, indeed, a book that provided the inspiration for this particular exhibition (and a third of the exhibits) because the 86-year-old Searle has just illustrated Jeffrey Archer’s Cat O’Nine Tails and Other Stories (Macmillan £25) with a suite of 49 full-colour images - plus a purrrfect cover featuring one of Searle incomparably smug felines with the appropriate number of appendages!

“I’m incredibly honoured to have Searle illustrate my book,” Archer told me at the exhibition’s private view the other night, as well he might be! And the rest of us should feel honoured to be able to still enjoy the work of such an unflaggingly brilliant artist…


“A massive heart attack trying to move a statue in the garden…”

The exhibition continues at Chris Beetles gallery until 11 November (where signed copies of Jeffrey Archer’s book are available); and fans of Ronald Searle might care to stop by the blogspot of animator Matt Jones who has created a ‘Ronald Searle Tribute’ here on Blogger in celebration of the girls of St Trinian’s and so much more…

3 comments:

Scrooge said...

The Searle illustrations remain distinctive and totally unique wherever they appear.
Great to see the traditions of the cinema being upheld with the re-emergence of St Trinians.Firstly,film makers have a long history, going right back to the remake of 'Get Carter' and the 'Italian Job' and 'Flight of the Pheonix' and...oh well too many to mention, of remaking great films that don't need to be remade.In addition, I guarantee you, the remake will show perfectly that the makers had absolutely no idea why the film was so successful in the first place and skilfully navigate away from all areas that are likely to bring them any hint of that earlier success.What a wonderful business.

polkadotsoph said...

Dunno WHY they are making a new film of St Trinians... the old ones are quite quite perfect. That said, I gather Rupert Everett will star in the new movie and he is gorgeous so we will have to go....

Brian Sibley said...

Gorgeous he may be, but Miss Fritton cannot POSSIBLY be GORGEOUS... Can she?