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    St Trinian’s, Ronald Searle’s famous cartoon set in Edinburgh…


    ronald searle cat and books drawing

    One of the many Ronald Searle's cat drawings


    Pourquoi les dessinateurs dessinent-ils des chats ? Parce qu’ils les aiment.

    (Le Monde 2012-01-10)

    Hi everybody !

    A few days ago, Iain and Margaret sent us this message from Scotland :

    You probably know that the cartoonist Ronald Searle (whose death was announced today) is believed to have found the inspiration for his dreadful St. Trinian’s schoolgirls – wise far beyond their years! – in the real-life Edinburgh school, St. Trinean’s. Searle’s cartoons inspired in turn such films as (I think, Iain!) – The Belles of St. Trinian’s and The Pure Hell of St. Trinian’s, comedies of the 1950’s .. .. Searle, a war-prisoner of the Japanese, did much else, but is best remembered for his nubile schoolgirls!¬† ūüôā ūüôā


    Ronald Searle's 2012 New Year card dedicated to his wife Monica who died in July 2011

    Ronald Searle's 2012 New Year card dedicated to his wife Monica who died in July 2011

    Though he was living in France since 1961 and died at Draguignan on 30 December 2011, I must admit I knew nothing about Ronald Searle before our friends’s message triggered my curiosity ;-). I soon got deeply immersed in the reading of a number of pages devoted to him on the web for many newspapers have paid tribute to the satirist whose drawings had made famous, in the 1940s, St Trinean‚Äôs¬† College.

     Ronald Searle The Terror of St Trinian's and Other Drawings Modern Classics Penguin 30 novembre 2011

    Ronald Searle - The Terror of St Trinian's and Other Drawings - Modern Classics Penguin 30 november 2011


    The school is the antithesis of the Enid Blyton or Angela Brazil-type posh girls’ boarding school; its pupils are wicked and often well armed, and mayhem is rife. The mistresses (as female teachers in Britain were known at the time) are also disreputable. Cartoons often showed dead bodies of girls who had been murdered with pitchforks or succumbed to violent team sports, sometimes with vultures circling; girls drank, gambled and smoked. It is reputed that the gymslip style of dress worn by the girls was closely modelled on the uniform of the school that Searle’s daughter Kate attended, JAGS in Dulwich. The films implied that the girls were the daughters of gangsters, crooks, shady bookmakers and other low-lifes and the institution is often referred to as a “female borstal”. (Source: Wikipedia)

    GEE WIZZ,¬† as would say Janice,¬† how “dreadful” are St Trinian’s illustrations !

    But, whether we like or not the devastating style Ronald Searle uses on his most famous cartoon it’s quite interesting to inquire about the artist’s life and works not only because of the large scope and graphic quality of his drawings but also because¬† St Trinian’s, which Michael McNay described as a ‘home of little monsters, wicked as sin’, happens to be set in Edinburgh…


    St. Leonard's Hall, Pollock Halls of Residence, Edinburgh University Source Wikipedia

    St. Leonard's Hall, Pollock Halls of Residence, Edinburgh University - Source Wikipedia

    The first full-blown St Trinian’s cartoon in Lilliput came after his release from Changi and was based on a real school (now defunct), St Trinean’s, in Edinburgh, which Searle had heard of when he was posted to Scotland during the phoney war. Much later, he turned down an invitation to stand for rector of Edinburgh University because, he said, he had done enough damage already to the city’s academic reputation.

     (Ronald Searle obituary by Michael McNay  (The Guardian 3 January 2012 )

    The above photo shows the gothic style building, situated in Edinburgh, which once sheltered St Trinean’s, the old girls boarding school which inspired Ronald Searle’ for the drawing of¬†¬† St Trinians



    Ronald Searle

    Ronald Searle (March 3,1920-Dec 30,2011)

    On ignore si cela d√©clencha sa vocation, mais toujours est-il que la main de Ronald Searle se lance sur le coup des cinq ans : “Toutes les possibilit√©s que pouvaient me donner une simple plume, un simple crayon, exerc√®rent sur moi une sorte de fascination qui tourna vite √† l’obsession. Personne ne s’int√©ressait particuli√®rement √† mes dessins, personne ne semblait choqu√© par leur caract√®re spontan√©ment grotesque. Tout cela paraissait bien naturel pour un gar√ßon qui se servait de sa main gauche…” Car la main de ce gaucher ne courait pas sur la feuille, elle dansait. (Le Monde 2012-01-10)

    Searle was born on March 3rd 1920 in Cambridge, England, where his father worked as railwayman. He started drawing at about 5 and after leaving school at 15 he trained at Cambridge College of Arts and Technology for two years. At the outbreak of WWII, he enlisted in the Royal Engineers, one of the corps of the British Army. He was soon made prisoner which didn’t prevent him from drawing. He survived the¬† “Death Railway“, the line built during WWII by the Empire of Japan between Bankgok, Thailand and Rangoon, Burma and during which more than 6,000 British workers died (and many others from other countries).

    Railway of Death Ronald Searle Source Perpetua

    Railway of Death Ronald Searle - Source: Perpetua

    I started this blog in 2006 as a fan of the work of Ronald Searle.  Dissatisfied by what was available online at the time I decided to do it myself!  Initially it began as a collection of choice scans from my collection of books illustrated by Ronald Searle.
    Most of these books are out of print so I thought sharing them online might encourage a community of Searle fans to contribute too.¬† Over the past 4 years other fans have sent me interesting material, even Ronald Searle himself has passed photographs & videos to me from his personal archive.¬† The site has coalesced into a sprawling archive of Searle’s oeuvre which I someday hope to organize chronologically-for now the best I can do is point you to some of the main sections in the links list on the right. (Matt Jones, author of the blog Perpetua)

    The sketchbooks Searle brought home from Changi constitute a remarkable document of survival in the face of the grossest inhumanity and are probably the best visual record of war in the Imperial War Museum; they formed the basis for a book, To the Kwai and Back: War Drawings 1939-45 (1986). His mastery of the fine balance between description and expression was by now fully achieved. He had become, almost incidentally, one of the finest topographical artists of the century. (The Guardian 3 January 2012 )

    In 1947, Ronald Searle married the journalist Kaye Webb; they had twins, Kate and Johnny. In 1961, he moved to Paris, leaving his family and later marrying Monica Koenig, a painter, theatre and jewellery designer. After 1975, Searle and his wife lived and worked in the mountains of Haute Provence.

    Ronald Searle worked for many magazines : Life, Holiday, Punch, The New Yorker, the Sunday Express, News Chronicle, Le Monde,  Le Figaro Littéraire

    Searle received many awards for his work,¬† he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2004¬† and Chevalier de la L√©gion d’Honneur in 2007.

    Let us watch the TV¬† interview he gave in 2010, on the eve of his 90th birthday…

    Ronald Searle's illustration The Fall of St. Trinian's

    Ronald Searle's illustration - The Fall of St. Trinian's

    St Trinian’s became a national institution, to the point where Searle began to hate his creation. He said later that he had never drawn that many St Trinian’s cartoons but that the impression was abroad that he did little else. In fact, after the popular success of the novel The Terror of St Trinian’s (1952), Searle balked at producing another in the sequence and instead, with his friend Geoffrey Willans, a BBC journalist, he devised Nigel Molesworth, semi-literate antihero of Down With Skool (1953) and its sequels; the gentler humour (some said whimsical) seemed to suit Searle better and his public lapped it up.

    (The Guardian 3 January 2012 )

    Molesworth Geoffrey Wilans and Ronald Searle Penguin Modern Classics 2000

    Molesworth Geoffrey Wilans and Ronald Searle Penguin Modern Classics 2000


    I would certainly prefer Ronald Searle’s ‘gentler humour’ and I definitely love his animal pets drawings ūüėČ

    Dessin de Ronald Searle Source Télérama ©  Estate of Ronald Searle and the Sayle Literary Agency

    Dessin de Ronald Searle Source Télérama © Estate of Ronald Searle and the Sayle Literary Agency

    Like this one I’ve found on the blog of T√©l√©rama ¬©Reproduced by kind permission of the Estate of Ronald Searle and the Sayle Literary Agency.



    The St Trinian's Story 1959,Perpetua Ltd.,London, first UK edition

    The St Trinian's Story 1959,Perpetua Ltd.,London, first UK edition


    Here’s the list of the St Trinian’s cartoons:

    They proved to be so successful that, in¬† the 1950s, a series of comedy films was made on the subject.¬† Two of these films featured Alastair Sim, the well-known Scottish actor who played Miss Fritton, the headmistress as well as her brother ūüėČ


    The Belles of StTrinians Alastair Sim film 1954

    The Belles of StTrinians - Alastair Sim - Film 1954


    Here’s the list of St Trinian’s¬† films :

    • ¬†¬†¬† The Belles of St Trinian’s (1954, the first film)
    • ¬†¬†¬† Blue Murder at St Trinian’s (1957, the second film)
    • ¬†¬†¬† The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s (1960, the third film)
    • ¬†¬†¬† The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery (1966, the final film of the quartet)
    • ¬†¬†¬† The Wildcats of St Trinian’s (1980, with Maureen Lipman taking on the Joyce Grenfell role)
    • ¬†¬†¬† St Trinian’s (2007)
    • ¬†¬†¬† St Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold (2009)

    I’ve found on You Tube a video which gives a good idea of St Trinian’s atmosphere in The Belles of St Trinian’s film and of the talent of the Scottish actor who plays a double part in this film.

    I’ve learned that though he was Scottish, Alastair Sim had turned down the lead role in Whisky Galore¬† saying that he couldn’t bear professional Scotsmen ! ūüėČ


    Alastair Sim

    Alastair Sim


    This is the theme from the original 1950s St. Trinians film from the original soundtrack, which starred Alastair Sim & George Cole, with Joyce Grenfell. The dual role of headmistress Millicent Fritton and her twin brother Clarence, was one of Alastair Sim’s most memorable performances, George Cole’s portrayal of Flash Harry was later to inspire His role as Arthur Daley in Minder. (You Tube summary)

    Alastair Sim A Christmas Carol 1951

    Alastair Sim A Christmas Carol 1951


    As Christmas is not far behind us I’d like to end my post on an extract from an old version of the film A Christmas Carol. Alastair Sim is at his best in this film !

    Enjoy !

    A bient√īt. Mairiuna

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