Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Ronald Searle, RIP

Ronald Searle's dead. He's most famous for his Molesworth and St. Trinian's cartoons, though he did a lot more in his 91 years. You might think that the two school strips are yet more English nostalgia for the lives of the aristocracy (like Billy Bunter), but they aren't. Both worlds are thinly disguised versions of his experiences as a prisoner of war under the Japanese on the Burma railway. 'You wake up each morning to find that one of the friends sleeping on either side of you has died', is one quote which springs to mind.

So his schoolchildren aren't all jolly hockey sticks: they're spiteful, sly, violent, cunning prisoners, admirable when they turn their wits to beating the authorities, yet there's an undercurrent of inhumanity ready to emerge under pressure. The civilising influences of education, art and sport are minimal: the kids see through it to the mailed fist underneath (rather Gramscian, that).

I loved his work not just for their jaundiced view of humanity (definitely shades of his contemporary, Mervyn Peake) but for his style. The scratchy pen lines, the gloriously piggy eyes of Nigel Molesworth, the 'tough gurls' for whom violence is a way of life…

Waiting for Father Christmas

1 comment:

oldgirlatuni said...

As the inmate of a boarding school in the late 1970s, I modelled my behaviour and outlook on St Trinians. Maybe that's why it was suggested to me that my 6th form would be better spent at a day school 250 miles away.

I shall miss Searle. Wonderful artist.