Ronald Searle (1920-2011)

Pictured at his studio at 77, Bedford Gardens

(Husband of Kaye Webb 1948-67)

Valerie Grove writes:

“Ronald had embarked, with 5,000 others, on the Polish ship Sobieski…arriving in January 1942 to the sound of Japanese planes attacking…During the terrible battle, under fire in a Singapore street, Ronald found in the debris a copy of Lilliput, containing his St Trinian’s cartoon.”

Searle said of his collection of war drawings, To The Kwai – and Back (1986):

“…they did at times act as a mental lifebelt. Now, with the perspective and detachment that a gap of 40 years or so can achieve, they can be looked on as the graffiti of a condemned man, intending to leave rough witness of his passing through, but who found himself – to his surprise and delight – among the reprieved.”

Valerie Grove: “His good friend and fellow survivor, the Australian writer Russell Braddon, said of him: “If you can imagine something that weighs six stone or so, is on the point of death…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…

One Sunday morning (in summer 1945), Kaye Webb read in Tom Driberg’s column in Reynolds News: “I have just found Ronald Searle of Lilliput in Changi Gaol where he has been a prisoner of the Japanese for three and a half years.”…Miss Webb of Lilliput was Ronald’s best potential contact. He had seen her byline in Gen, the forces newsletter, in the prisoners’ hospital…

Lilliput published another St Trinian’s cartoon (“Hand up the girl who burnt down the East Wing last night”), again drawn in Changi, in April (1946)…

D B Wyndham Lewis’s book The Terror of St Trinian’s…was an instant bestseller of 1952. It was publicised by a stunt in which an army of young ladies, led by Hermione Gingold, smashed in a window of Foyle’s bookshop…while Clement Freud drove his taxi with his wife Jill playing “Miss Desiree Umbrage”, Head of the school, bound and gagged on top. The whole setup was filmed by Pathe News: “a cretinous publicity stunt,” Ronald commented” (to Valerie Grove, in 2009). “Apart from Alastair Sim’s performances, he found the St Trinian’s films “crass and witless”.” (Grove, 2010)

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