Tuesday 3 January 2012



The 'Master' is gone: unquestionably one of the all-time great cartoonists, illustrators and graphic artists has died at the age of 91.

As the tributes to his work are already showing (and as he knew they would) Ronald Searle will be labelled and pigeon-holed as the creator of St Trinian's – despite his best endeavours to distance himself from that heinous establishment – but there was so very much more to the man and his work.

The British gave him a CBE, but the knighthood he ought to have received came in the form of a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur from the people of France, among whom he lived and for whose journals he was still drawing long after his homeland had all but forgotten his reputation as a master of comic art and social comment.

The diversity of his work is staggeringly impressive: cartoons with jokey captions; trenchant satires; brilliant caricatures; stunning exercises in graphic reportage; humorous advertising art; posters and title cards for movies and dramatic and dynamic book illustrations (from war stories to kid's fables) all executed left-handedly in a variety of media and styles, but chiefly in the scratchy, spidery, pen-and-ink line (with sombre shadows – created using wood-stain – and occasional flurries of ink spatters) that became the instantly recognisable hallmark of his work.

Searle was the very first cartoonist under whose spell I fell as a young boy and whose work I have adored ever since and ever will do.

A man of wit and wicked humour (no one has captured the essence of 'cat' quite like Searle), his art is often leavened by disturbingly dark undertones.

Perhaps it was the fact that he survived the infamous Japanese POW camp, Changi Gaol – where matters of life and death were a daily lottery – that informed his frequently caustic, jaundiced take on the absurdist buffoonery of our world and fired what seems an often obsessive fascination with the frailties of humankind and the cruelties of human unkindness.

For those who would like to read more about Ronald Searle, click on the coloured links below to go to a few of my previous posts:

Last year's birthday tribute: Searly Days: Ronald Searle at 90

An introduction to some of my favourite Searly Folk

Ronald Searle - Looking at London (1)

A few notes on those St Trinian's cartoons (and films) Hell's Belles and the St T cartoon that is a prized exhibit in the Weeks-Sibley Collection...

From Searle's sojourn in the US, there are his TV Guide cartoons inspired by Bewitched

Ronald Searle - 'Bewitched' (Sam in Make-up)

Mr Searle & Mrs Mole celebrates Searle's last published work, Les Très Riches Heures de Mrs Mole.

This series of forty-seven drawings were made for his wife, Monica, when she was diagnosed with cancer in 1969.

Never originally intended for publication, they were exhibited last year to help promote breast cancer charities and made a powerful impact because of Mrs Mole's joyous delight in the world around her and her innocent optimism.

A limited edition book followed along with prints of the drawings signed by Ronald and Monica, although, sadly, the trade edition of the book appeared after Monica's death last summer.

And, finally...

A memory of the first Searle-illustrated book I ever owned: James Thurber's The 13 Clocks & The Wonderful O.

Last year, through the good offices of a couple of animator friends who were visiting the Searles, I sent my treasured copy of The 13 Clocks with a request that the artist might consider signing it for me. The book came back with a fulsome and very personal inscription that makes it all the more precious.

– for Brian Sibley
with not only kind regards but with regards for your
kindness and, as they say,
Ronald –
Ronald Searle
long after the date of
these Clocks
September 2010


Neil-W said...

An apt tribute to the great man Brian thanks.
I never get tired of looking and marveling at his work
and the draftsmanship which seemed effortless, but i know was the result , literally of his blood sweat and tears .

Lo said...

Oh, we have lost my Idol and my Love. Sob.

Matt Jones said...

A fine tribute Brian, may we see the inscription Ronald did in the 13 CLOCKS?

Brian Sibley said...

I am abroad at the moment and (with a house-move pending) many of my books – including my RS collection – are in store, but as soon as I can, I will do that...

Brian Sibley said...

Matt – Ronald's inscription now added to the post. thanks for making it possible!

Matt Jones said...

That's lovely!