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A salute to Ronald Searle who has died at Age 91…

Nigel Molesworth

As a young teenager I became a regular reader of Ronald Searle‘s wonderful illustrated books about Nigel Molesworth (especially Down With Skool!) and the other British schoolboys at St. Custards and the schoolgirls of St. Trinians who turned up in comic films as well.

From the London Telegraph:

…behind the humorist illustrator was a man of much darker vision who could find sharp things to say about global poverty, paedophilia or the war on terror, and could plumb the depths of an almost Boschian disgust with the cruelties and excesses of his fellow man — as seen for example in a sketch entitled In Fashion, featuring maimed and wailing women walking down a catwalk. In this more Swiftian guise, Searle was credited with influencing many leading artists and illustrators, including Gerald Scarfe .

Much of Searle’s work was profoundly influenced by his experiences during the war. As he himself often explained, his experience of the “horror, the misery, the blackness” of a Japanese prisoner of war camp had “changed the attitude to all things, including humour”.

Ronald Searle

British illustrator Ronald Searle went to art school in Cambridge and during WWII was working as a draftsman with the Brisits Army and Singapore. His unity was captured by the Japanese and spent 3 and a half years as a prisoner, unltimately ending up as a slave laborer in 1943 on the Burma Railway.

…he rejected what he called the “jolly good chaps” account given in David Lean’s film Bridge on the River Kwai for providing a false picture of camaraderie in the face of adversity. Searle had been sent to work on the railway in 1943 after he and two other inmates had begun producing a magazine to boost the morale of the prisoners. “It upset the extremely conservative mentalities of our own administration — the commanders and the chaplains,” he recalled with some bitterness. “When the time came for the Japanese to say we want groups to be sent up north, the English chose the troublemakers.” For Searle, the bridge remained the place “where I lost all my friends”.

Searle was also known for posters, animations and other illustrations. The opening credit animation for Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines was Searle’s work.