Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The wonderful Ronald Searle

I just learned that the great illustrator Ronald Searle died a few days ago. 

The very first time I saw his illustrations was when I was about ten and had been given a second-hand copy of ‘The Terror Of St Trinian’s’.

I was so captivated by his lively, scratchy pen and ink drawings.  What was particularly special was the way he imbued each character with so much personality that I really felt I had met each and every one of them.  There was such power in every tiny detail.  No other book had ever had quite the same effect before - in fact I’m not sure any other illustrator has ever had quite that same effect since.   Later, when I went to secondary school (my own version of St Trinian’s), I could have sworn that some of my teachers – and fellow pupils - had walked straight out of the pages of that book.  

Much has been written about Searle’s long and productive life elsewhere (and there is so much more to his work than just children’s book illustration) so I won’t cover it here. However I am at least quite chuffed that I studied illustration at the same establishment as he did, at what is now known  as Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge.  They’re very proud of their connection with him there.

Hearing of his death also prompted me to rummage through some of my old books and dig out my tatty paperback of the two stories: ‘The 13 Clocks’ and ‘The Wonderful O’ by James Thurber, which contains some classic Searle illustrations.  Here are just a few for your viewing delight.

And for anyone who remembers the Molesworth books, here is a lovely little animation that someone has put together, which perfectly showcases Searle’s fantastic character portrayals.

Ronald Searle
3rd March 1920 – 30th December 2011


  1. I remember his cartoons in various publications over here in the USA.

  2. Nice tribute C. Hard to overestimate the influence of Searle on illustration - at least all of us that have ever wielded a dip pen in anger owe him some sort of debt. Your small selection of choice examples have made me want to go and look at his work all over again...

  3. Searle and Scarfe were such heroes when I was younger. I guess they still are but you get complacent and forget just how amazing their work is. Often imitated - never bettered.

  4. His characters seem like the demented relatives of Warhol's early illustrations.

    Very cool.

  5. Thank you all for comments - sounds like we could form a little sub-branch of the 'Searle Appreciation Society' here. (Although I'm not so sure about that acronym...)

  6. Keeping up at the back...

    The man captured worlds that were just beyond my 12 year old ken. I have since met all the cats and school boys he sketched so cruelly.

    Molesworth has recently been promted to be the under secretary to Michael Gove .

    1. Hi and thanks for dropping in.
      Sounds like Searle had a similar effect on you as on me with his introduction to worlds and people we were yet to see for real.
      Michael Gove? Ha ha! He and Molesworth must have been separated at birth...


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