Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Chiz Triple Chiz

My brother telephoned last night to tell me that Ronald Searle had died. He also told me that, without Searle's drawings of Nigel Molesworth and St Custards, his time at prep school would have been even more unpleasant than it actually was. Given what this man says about that same school and its longlasting effect on him, I'm not surprised.

In 2003 Searle once again provided some kind of comfort -  both for my brother and for me - after our father died suddenly. We flew to London together in time for his funeral but, heartbreakingly, too late to say goodbye. During the days we spent wandering dazedly around the city after our arrival, I remember only one cheerful interlude - a morning spent at Chris Beetles's gallery in Ryder Street, (from the doorway of which we could see one of our father's favourite places in the world - Brooks's), looking at an exhibition of Searle's work.

Sadly, there was no chance of buying any of the pictures on display, as they had all been snapped up long before we turned up, (we probably couldn't have afforded them anyway), but I did keep the catalogue of the exhibition. It contained this account of Searle's remarkable life:
Click to enlarge for reading
and this - I suspect typically - self-deprecating note from Searle himself:

and pictures from every period of his life, starting with pen and ink drawings from the POW camps he endured in the 1940s:
Left: Tent Life and Emaciation, pen and ink on tinted paper, 6.5 x 4.25" Right: Rock Breaking, pen and ink on tinted paper, 6.75 x 4.25"

Left: A Burial, pen and ink on tinted paper, 6.75 x 4.75" Right: Freight train to Thailand, pen and ink on tinted paper, 6.75 x 4.75"
progressing through the 1950s:
 The First Night Scene, pen and ink, 10.5 x 12", Punch, 23 April, 1952

 The Modern Olympus, the Gods being Entertained by the Muses, pen ink and monochrome watercolour, 18 x 29.75" Punch 27 November 1957, Key, l to r, with last four figures reading downwards: THE MUSES - Calliope (Epic Poetry)-Situation Vacant;Melpomene (Tragedy)-Sir Donald Wolfit; Thalia (Comedy)-Joyce Grenfell;Clio (History)-Arnold Toynbee; Urania (Astronomy)-The Astronomer Royal;Euterpe (Lyric Poetry)-John Betjeman;Erato (Erotic Poetry)-Tommy Steele;Polyhymnia (Sublime Hymns)-Vera Lynn;Terpsichore (The Dance)-Dame Margot Fonteyn. THE GODS - The Church-the Archbishop of Canterbury; Pulchritude-Sabrina;Education-Sir John Wolfenden;the Trade Unions-Frank Cousins;The Press-Sir William Haley;Science-Sir William Penney;The Law-Lord Goddard;Politics-Aneurin Bevan;Campanology-Lord Hailsham

 The Tragedy Queen, pen ink and monochrome watercolour, 14.5 x 12.75", Mr Rothman's New Guide to London. Together with a Guide to some Londoners of the Eighteen-Nineties, Rothman's of Pall Mall, 1958

 The Actor Manager, pen ink and monochrome waterolour, 14.25 x 9.75", as for preceding picture.

 Miss Jennings: Two Thousand Thimbles Worn Out in the Interests of Male Vanity, pen and ink, 11 x 14.5", News Chronicle, 15 May, 1953 (Ronald Searle and Kaye Webb, Looking at London)

 Mr Hansen, Head Porter of the Savoy Hotel, London, pen ink and bodycolour with pencil on tinted paper, 12 x 9.75", inscribed: "John Hansen, Head Porter of the Savoy Hotel controls the staff of porters and doormen from his cubby hole between the revolving doors. He has six telephones on his desk."

Jack Warburton, Carriage Man at Claridges Hotel, pen ink and bodycolour on tinted paper, 11 x 9", inscribed with title, plus: "has saluted more kings than many prime ministers. Top hat, black tie and tails."

On the Road: Herbert Morrison Electioneering, pen and ink, 13.5 x 14", signed, inscribed 'Lewisham' and dated 1951, News Chronicle, 18 October, 1951

Have a Good Rum for your Money, pen and ink, 15 x 10", designed as advertising for Lemon Hart Rum, 1950s

Agatha Christie's Bathtub, pen ink and monochrome watercolour, 7.5 x 10", Life Magazine, 14 May, 1956

Perdu dans le Labyrinthe Londonien, pen and ink, 12 x 13.5", Figaro, 18 February, 1955

Design for Licking, pen and ink, 10 x 14.5", 1953

A Hubbub of Music, pen and ink, 9.25 x 6", Night in a London Coffee House, The Big City, Perpetua, 1958

What Calm and Pleasant Seclusion the Library Presents, pen and ink, 8 x 5.5", drawn for but not illustrated in Holiday, November 1952

Wimbledon, pen ink and monochrome watercolour, 20.5 x 12.5", News Chronicle, 26 June, 1954 

'I Say - I Think it's Going to Clear ...' Summer Holidays, pen ink and monochrome watercolour, 20 x 12.5", News Chronicle, 7 August 1954

Detail of preceding picture

Office Duo,  pen ink and monochrome watercolour, 15.5 x 18.5", Punch, 12 January, 1955 

I'm Afraid it's the Weather,  pen ink and monochrome watercolour, 22 x 14", News Chronicle, 14 August, 1954 

The Guest Book,  pen ink and monochrome watercolour, 22 x 15", News  Chronicle, 23 August, 1954 

Detail of The Guest Book

Detail of The Guest Book

The Spirit of Autumn, pen ink and monochrome watercolour, 22 by 15", News Chronicle, 25 September 1954

Street Scenes, pen and ink, 22 by 14.75", News Chronicle,19 September 1954
- an era that saw the birth of Nigel Molesworth and his world:
We Mite Get a Rusian Master, pen ink and blue crayon, 12 x 9.5". Whizz for Atomms, 1956

That's Enuff of that for the Moment. In the Meantime this Should Constitute a Provocative Action, pen an ink, 13 x 9.5", Down with Skool, 1953

The Molesworth Production Line for Latin Sentences, pen and ink, 14 x 10". Whizz for Atomms, 1956

Gosh, Chiz, This is Molewsorth 2, My Bro, He is Uterly Wet and a Weed, it Panes Me to Think I Am of the Same Blud, pen and ink, 9 x 7.5", Down with Skool, 1953

Cad with an Ancestral Conker, pen and ink, 11.25 x 8.5", How to be Topp, 1954

It is by Such an Example as I, Like Those Other Brave, Clear-Eyed Workers in the Documentary Films, that Britain Will Win Its Export Battle, pen and ink, 13.25 x 10.25", Whizz for Atomms, 1956
but in which Searle also turned his attention to more serious subjects:
Anna Barth and Leonard Hess, Camp Laschenskyhof, Salzburg, pen and ink, 15 x 21.25", Punch, 30 December, 1959: "Anna Barth, the woman in this picture, is 45 years old. She comes from Yugoslavia. In the last war she and her crippled husband were told to hand over German soldiers who were billeted with them. They refused, and so the partisans murdered her husband. At war's end she and her four children were taken to a prison labour camp. Her young son was beaten to death by guards and two of her daughters died of starvation. She then had 12 of her teeth pulled out and gave the gold fillings to pay for bread for the last child. 'But she was too weak. She died holding the loaf in her arms.'"

Christo Bogaitziev, Bulgarian Aged 26, Seven Years in Camps, Lavrion Refugee Camp, Greece, pen ink and pencil, 15 x 11 inches, Punch, 30 December, 1959: "Christo Bogaitziev escaped from Bulgaria to Greece when he was 19. He is now 26. He has twice been accepted for emigration overseas, but both times excitement affected his reason, and so he lost his visa. Although he has been stable for more than a year, he no longer hopes for a third chance and would be content to be allowed to work. In his seven years of waiting he taught himself Italian, Russian, French, Greek, and English. Now he wants only a room of his own, books to read, and a positive future. 'What I can't endure is this in-between state'."

Wash House, Camp Lexenfeldstrasse, Salzburg, pen ink and monochrome watercolour on tinted paper, 15.5 x 21.5", Refugees 1960: "a washroom in camp Lexenfeldstrasse, Salzburg is typical of those in every official refugee camp. At the end of a long dismal corridor and unpainted gloomy room with basins of either stone or galvanised metal. It was constantly in use, for washing or ironing seemed almost the only occupation for women refugees. Although this was, in a sense, the only communal room in the camp, there was very little conversation or friendliness between the women who used it. They had lived together so long, and so little had happened to them, that there was nothing left to say. They had no homes to be proud of, no work to grumble about, and no news to engage."

the 1960s:
Nikita Khruschev, pen ink and watercolour, 15.75 by 12", Holiday, February, 1961

Bedtime Reading, pen and ink, 11 by 15.5", Which Way Did he Go?,Perpetua, 1961

C Northcote Parkinson, pen ink and monochrome watercolour, 15.5 x 13", Punch, 29 August, 1962

Benjamin Britten, pen ink and monochrome watercolour, 14 x 13", Punch,  23 May, 1962

Ivy Compton-Burnett, pen ink and monochrome watercolour, 15.75 x 14.5", Punch, 7 March, 1962

Iris Murdoch, pen ink and monochrome watercolour, 16 x 16", Punch, 21 March, 1962

Alfred Hitchcock, pen ink and monochrome watercolour, 15.5 x 13", Punch, 6 June, 1962
the 1970s and 1980s, (a period that seems to have included the advent of the famous Searle cats):
Family Photograph, pen ink, pencil and watercolour, 8 x 5.5", 1982

Crackers, watercolour, pen ink and crayon, 12 x 9.25", Design for Christmas card for Camden Graphics, London, 1982

A Bigger Slash, Homage to David Hockney, lithograph with crayon and watercolour, 25.5 x 20", 1984

Whither the Pound?, pen ink, pencil and monochrome watercolour, 16.5 x 12", 1983

A Clash of Symbols, pen ink and watercolour with bodycolour, 14.5 x 17.5", drawn for Anglo-American company report, 1987

Cutting Costs, pen and ink, 18 x 12.5"
The Babysitter, lithograph with pencil, watercolour and coloured chalks, 20 x 26", 1976
Breakfast TV, pen ink and watercolour with crayon, 14 x 12", TV Guide, 1983

Nice Set, but one Volume Missing, pen ink and watercolour, 12.5 x 10", drawn for Slightly Foxed

Outwardly Cracking, pen ink, watercolour and crayon, 12 x 9", Slightly Foxed

Savile Row in All its Glory, pen ink and watercolour, 19.25 x 16", Town and Country, April, 1989

Tea Shoppe, pen ink and watercolour with crayon, 15 x 15.5", Conde Nast Travel Magazine, April, 1990, 'London', by David Mamet

Numerous Headpieces, pen ink and watercolour with crayon, 12.5 x 9", Slightly Foxed

Knit to a Harmonious Whole, pen ink and watercolour, 12.75 x 9", The Illustrated Winespeak, Souvenier Press, 1983 

Film Publicity - Welcome to a Film Person, pen ink and watercolour with crayon, 14 x 12.25", TV Guide, 1984
The Briefing, pen and ink with monochrome watercolour, 12 x 11.5"

arriving at last at the 1990s and then the new century:
Synchronised Ratting, pen ink, watercolour and coloured crayon, 11.25 x 18.75", Delta Sky Inflight Magazine, 1996

The Rendezvous, watercolour, pen ink and crayon, 17.5 x 12", 1990

Christmas Presents, pen ink, watercolour and crayon, 18.75" x 14.25", Design for a Christmas card for Married Women magazine, 1993

Brief Encounters: Gertrude Stein Meets Spectre de la Rose Rose Rose, pen and ink, 13 x 11.75", New Yorker, 1990

Girl Power!, pen and ink, 15.5 x 13", International Herald Tribune, 16 March, 1996

Gettin' the Bird, pen ink and watercolour, 14 x 10", 1991

Cloning, pen and ink, 12 x 19", New York Times, 4 February, 1994

Fast Food, pen and ink, 13.75 x 15", International Herald Tribune, 14 October, 1995

Waiting for Walkies, pen and ink and watercolour, 12.25 x 18", International Herald Tribune, 13 January, 2001

Alice in No-Man's Land, pen ink and crayon, 12.5 x 16.75", 1990

Butler School, pen ink, watercolour and coloured crayon, 19 x 16", Forbes FYI Magazine, November , 1992

I am very sad that Searle has gone, but I will always be grateful he has left Nigel Molesworth behind to cheer us up forever. If the chips were down and all other literature had to go on the bonfire, I'm afraid I would, with regret but no real hesitation, pass over many, many great books, including Middlemarch, much as I hugely love it, and even the entire works of Dickens, in order to retain The Compleet Molesworth, which contains too many wonderful moments of satire and other more gentle forms of  humour - and too perfect an understanding of humanity in all its absurdity - to be given up.

To conclude, I can only borrow the words of Twitter member @Skool_Dog, who tweeted thus this morning, adapting the immortal words of Auden into the even more immortal language of Geoffrey Willans:

"Stop ol the cloks, cut off the telefoan / Privent the DOGG from barkin with a joosy BOAN" (peotry) RIP Mr SERL"


  1. Fine tribute & a fantastic selection of images!

    Matt Jones

  2. I look foward to looking at your site in detail - it looks wonderful.

  3. You created a beautiful archive and commentary here. Thank you. I confess to being a bit embarrassed now by the piddling stuff I wrote about St Trinians.

    1. Well you shouldn't. And I feel a bit bad that I skipped St Trinians completely. There were one or two pics I could have included but I think everything else he did was better. Actually that's not true - ST Trinians was great, but it is the one really well-known thing of Searle's