For Whom the Belles Toll

As the year drew to a close another great talent of the late 20th century was lost – cartoonist and illustrator Ronald Searle died on December 30 at his home in France.  He first created his infamous Belles of St Trinian’s while a prisoner of war working on the Burma Railway in Changi.

In an interview with the Guardian’s Steve Bell he described his time there:

“I desperately wanted to put down what was happening, because I thought if by any chance there was a record, even if I died, someone might find it and know what went on.  At times I was so ill that I couldn’t draw at all. You’re doing 16 hours a day rock breaking and you’re exhausted. You come back and have a bowl of rice. You have no light, but you have fire, a big fire keeping the mountain lions away, and snakes perhaps, and by the light of the fire, I made the drawings. I didn’t have a watch or anything, so you just lie down in the tent until you were dragged out the next morning to go back to the rock breaking. And so all these drawings, some of them very bad, were all I could do in a state of exhaustion.”

Steve Bell
The Guardian March 9, 2010
Ronald Searle's Big Fat Cat Book

After is return from the war his anarchical gang of schoolgirls brought him recognition and success including, in 1954,  the first – and best – of a series of films based on their riotous behavior.  Featuring the magnificent Alistair Sim as the addled head-mistress Miss Fritton and her gangster twin brother Clarence it also starred Joyce Grenfell, George Cole, Hermione Baddeley, Sid James and in her first film Barbara Windsor.  It was followed by four other movies though none ever quite lived up to the fun and frolic of the first.

In these two clips we see the staff and young “ladies” of St. T’s at their finest, or at least as good as they will ever get:

But Searle’s fame wasn’t to rest of his naughty schoolgirls – he output was to include cartoons, travel books, the adventures of Molesworth, his particular take on his beloved cats, advertisements and commemorative medals were all to bear the distinctive spiky style of Searle’s pen.  I was particularly miffed when I discovered that somehow in all the moves I’ve lost – sold? given away? – a hysterical look at the history of The Hudson’s Bay Company  that he and Kildare Dobbs created to celebrate the 300 anniversary of that august institution.  Amongst the illustrations was a less than happy Queen Victoria, in her lap a pile of beaver pelts and on her face a look of regal distaste – all captured with a few strokes from the pen of a master.

Victoria and Albert show an atypical ebullience in “Always With It” a cartoon Searle did in 2007 to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of London’s V and A.

Today’s Guardian has a slideshow highlighting some of Ronald Searle’s work and his life here.

03 January – 1987 – Aretha Franklin is the first women inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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Author: Willym

A senior with the heart of a young'un

3 thoughts on “For Whom the Belles Toll”

  1. Oh, sad news! I've always loved his drawings, cartoons and of course the girls of St. Trinian's. Did you see the remake of a few years ago with Rupert Everett and Colin Firth?

  2. Oh those girls! I loved and adored them growing up. Never ever in my boarding school did I encounter such daring souls.
    How do I follow this blog?
    Cheers,
    Dia,

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