Ronald Searle Has Died

by Henry Farrell on January 8, 2012

The Financial Times carries his obituary here. He’s most famous for his St. Trinian’s illustrations, but I suspect that many CTers (and almost certainly Harry) will miss him more for his illustrations of Molesworth. I had just purchased a copy of the Compleet Molesworth last week, having lost my last one, and figuring that the six year old will soon be able to enjoy it. I was especially fond of his work on Maurice Richardson’s The Exploits of Engelbrecht, which Savoy books has finally reissued again in a more affordable edition (copies of the last were going for $150 and up on the WWW until recently). The first chapter (PDF), with a couple of Searle’s illustrations, is available online, and an illustration from ‘Ten Rounds With Grandfather Clock’ is below.



maidhc 01.08.12 at 4:39 am

I was a fan of his Molesworth cartoons since I was that age. But I love his later cartoons on more general subjects. We always had a few collections around the house. I suppose a lot of them were published in Punch. I believe I even have his illustrated program for Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. Really imaginative stuff, not to mention his drawing style was always first class.

In the BBC obit they said he got a bit annoyed by people always going on about St. Trinian’s as though he had never done anything else.

Incidentally I recently noticed that the Molesworth books were the origin of the name Hogwarts.


BenSix 01.08.12 at 11:57 am

I’d never known that he’d endured so much in WW2. The psychology of the men – see also: Spike Milligan – who went through such a dreadfully surreal experience and then created such wonderfully surreal humour is interesting.


Henry 01.08.12 at 12:31 pm


Belle Waring 01.08.12 at 1:40 pm

The prospect of beautiful Changi airport being the best in the world must have seemed a bit…odd to his cohort. It was horrible for the locals too; it was where the Japanese took a huge number of young Chinese men of potential military age and ordered them out off the beach, and then machine-gunned them all to death in the surf. Avoids all those pesky survivors hiding under their dead fellows until night falls, as so often happens when one has them dig a pit first.


Jeffrey Davis 01.08.12 at 5:41 pm

My grandfather died in 1958 and my grandmother had to sell the house and move to a small apartment. Around 1961, I discovered in her apartment “Molesworth’s Guide to the Atomic Age” (well thumbed, even then) and fell in love with Searle. She kept the book at the base of her sewing stand where, I guess, you’d put the patterns you were working on. I never saw her with a needle in her hand, but the sewing stand was always out. It was many years later, long after she’d died, that I realized that there was no plausible chain of events that would have brought Searle’s book to that old lady’s home. Nobody who was ever in that apartment would have had anything in common with Searle and yet there he was. Nothing in the title. Nothing in the attitudes. She had no sense of irony or humor. I never heard her make a comment about literature or art. Once, after Grandpa died, she had me escort her to the movies — Separate Tables. Other than that and Ed Sullivan Show, she never gave any hint of having any cultural interests beyond playing bridge and reading cozy murder mysteries.

Searle is at the base of one of my life’s great puzzles.


jim 01.08.12 at 9:39 pm

One should also mention Too Many Songs by Tom Lehrer with Not Enough Drawings by Ronald Searle.


Harry 01.09.12 at 1:45 pm

Thanks Henry, yes, it is Molesworth I’ll remember him for, though St Trinians too. The depiction of (posh) school as a prison camp must have been a way of working through his experiences and trauma, I guess, though not at odds with the experiences of many boys and girls going through it at the time (I bet that Prince Charles is a Molesworth fan).
That Jeffrey Davis story is great. Have you asked the pertinent parent?


johne 01.09.12 at 8:57 pm

Jeffrey — was “Molesworth’s Guide” something grandfather loved (and thumbed through), and grandma kept as a momento?


Jeffrey Davis 01.09.12 at 9:27 pm

re: 7 and 8

The book was published in 1958. The year Grandpa died. I turned 8 that year, but I don’t remember ever seeing him with a book in his hand. When I first read it, I assumed it had been one of my father’s books. (My grandmother kept some of Dad’s Tarzans and boy’s books by Roy J. Snell.) But Dad hadn’t lived with his parents since 1942 when he was waiting to go to Basic Training. It took awhile for me to understand about copyrights and realize that Dad wouldn’t have had a hand in its presence.

Grandma was your basic Kentucky Presbyterian. More proper than God. Molesworth’s crabbed spelling and juvenile fantasies would have been nonsense to her. Grandpa is the most plausible source, but the closest he came to Molesworth was setting his false teeth on the dinner table to amuse us and scandalize Grandma. But he’s plausible mostly because nothing else is possible.


Josh Lukin 01.11.12 at 4:16 am

Yes, the Tom Lehrer book. Also the graphic version of Freud’s Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. Classic work.

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