Article by JMB
Read other Ronald Searle articles
Searle’s short obituaries mainly mention St. Trinian’s cartoons, but the artist has pictured the whole British society, in press and in numerous books too.
Searle’s second book was published in France by Editions Montbrun; its printing was done in December 1946 as a limited edition: 650 numbered copies (25 on Vélin Véron paper & 625 on Vélin Alfa paper) and 4 extra copies not for sale (printed on Japon Imperial paper). A four pages text in French presents the history of ballet in England and modern ballets’ creations at Covent Garden. There are sixteen drawings featuring some dancers and some scenes of these recent ballets (such as The Rake’s Progress here above).
Here are two scenes of Adam Zero, a ballet launched in april 1946. The other scenes are from the ballets: Les Patineurs, The Prospect Before Us, Orpheus and Eurydice, Hamlet, Miracle in the Gorbals, and Les Sirènes.
Searle drew humorous illustrations for books gathering some comic or odd newspapers cuttings. Such collections where particularly appreciated at the time: Three books titled: This England, where formerly published by The New Statesman and Nation, in 1937, 1939, and 1946.
This fourth series of This England is the only one with Searle’s drawings. It was published by Turnstile Press in 1949. Audrey Hilton selected the newspapers cuttings.
In fact, all these newspapers cuttings came from readers who submitted them to The New Statesman and Nation, where the funnier were edited every week.
As to the newspapers cuttings collected by Denys Parsons, and edited in this other book, many of them come from unidentified papers. So, one can wonder if a lot of the howlers or misprints were not written by the editor himself. Anyway, often they are amusing.
It Must Be True – It Was All in the Papers was published by Macdonald in 1952. Although a large part of these newspapers cuttings are told coming from foreign press, many illustrations feature typical British characters.
The novel hereunder describes the life of a young provincial newcomer in London. Through her experiences, the reader discovers some manners and customs of the Londoners.
London-so Help Me! was published by Macdonald in 1952.
Looking at London, and People Worth Meeting is written by Searle’s wife. It is a collection of portraits of ordinary Londoners, real people just on the very first rung of the social ladder. The writer and the artist show a deep empathy for all these everyday characters.
This book was published by News Chronicle in 1953
The novel The Journal of Edwin was published by Hamish Hamilton in 1954; it was translated into French and published by Editions Denoël in 1956.
The main character lives in the suburbs. He keeps watching and making a note of the events of his life and his circle of acquaintances. This gives the reader an implacable but humorous self portrait of the average Englishman.
A Rake’s Progress is a famous set of 8 painting done by William Hogarth in 1732-33, and then etched. This series relates the story of an heir who, rather than following a path of wisdom in his new ease, joins the ways of vice, which led him in jail before he died insane. Hogarth met a success already with A Harlot's Progress which is a feminine counterpart of a similar curve of life: rising, downfall, and death.
Inspired by these fates, Searle transposes them to the brilliant career of some contemporary British types: the athlete, the girlfriend, the actor, the soldier, the novelist, the trade union leader, the doctor, the Member of Parliament, the clergyman, and several more. If Hogarth’s aim was moralistic, Searle’s look over British society is particularly ironic. His series The Rake’s Progress was first published in Punch in 1954, a book was published by Perpetua in 1955 and it was republished by Dennis Dobson in 1968.
The great lover progress is the only one to be shown in two drawings: boyhood, and his very end in jail. Every other life is related in six scenes: promise, emergence, success, triumph, downfall, and ruin.
Often, these ultimate ruins are just Searle’s humorous appreciation, as many of these careers end when the honors continue. Such is the painter’s life and his last vileness: being knighted, sitting right to Winston Churchill during a banquet at the Academy of Fine Arts. You shall notice this character has a goatee beard just like the one Searle used to keep all along his life!
In a book containing over 150 cartoons, Searle humorously shows various aspects of British life.
Merry England, etc. was published by Perpetua en 1956.
At right, the cartoon refers to the Churchill portrait by Graham Sutherland, which was offered this statesman on his 80th anniversary in 1954. This painting offended many people of the establishment, as it showed the old prime minister features with no flattery. This artwork was even said to be just a caricature. In his speech of thanks, Lord Winston called it "a particular example of modern art" and his wife later destroyed the painting privately.
This softcover book was published by Penguin Books in 1960. It contains a choice of cartoons published in: Souls in Torment, The Rake’s Progress, and Merry England, etc.
In the book Take One Toad, Searle looks into a much older England; the one of an epoch when medicine was based on popular beliefs in strange remedies’ ingredients and in extravagant cures’ attempts. Successfully, this pharmacopeia and these therapies are no more used, but their strangeness is really funny for all present day readers.
Take One Toad was published by Dennis Dobson in 1968
At right, is a photo of the original work which is only reproduced in black & white in this book. In fact, all the illustrations of Take One Toad come from watercolour drawings, but the book contains twice more pages in black & white than in colours; too bad for these excellent works...
A choice of cartoons of Searle’s British period was published by Pavilion in 1985. This anthology gathers some works formerly published in ten of his books.
These times of Golden Oldies run up to 1961 when Searle lefts England definitely, moving to France. We shall mention some of his books connected to this country, later on.
Prior to Searle’s books and France, our next part will tackle some other countries, because the artist has travelled a lot too.
article by JMB