Ronald William Fordham Searle, CBE, RDI (3 March 1920 – 30 December 2011) was an English artist and satirical
cartoonist A cartoonist is a visual artist who specializes in both drawing and writing cartoons (individual images) or comics (sequential images). Cartoonists differ from comics writers or comic book illustrators in that they produce both the literary and ...
, comics artist, sculptor, medal designer and illustrator. He is perhaps best remembered as the creator of St Trinian's School and for his collaboration with Geoffrey Willans on the Molesworth series.


Searle was born in
Cambridge Cambridge ( ) is a university city and the county town in Cambridgeshire, England. It is located on the River Cam approximately north of London. As of the 2021 United Kingdom census, the population of Cambridge was 145,700. Cambridge beca ...
, England, where his father was a Post Office worker who repaired telephone lines. He started drawing at the age of five and left school (Central School – now Parkside School) at the age of 15. He trained at Cambridge College of Arts and Technology (now
Anglia Ruskin University Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) is a public university in East Anglia, United Kingdom. Its origins are in the Cambridge School of Art, founded by William John Beamont in 1858. It became a university in 1992, and was renamed after John Ruskin i ...
) for two years. In April 1939, realizing that war was inevitable, he abandoned his art studies to enlist in the
Royal Engineers The Corps of Royal Engineers, usually called the Royal Engineers (RE), and commonly known as the '' Sappers'', is a corps of the British Army. It provides military engineering and other technical support to the British Armed Forces and is head ...
. In January 1942, he was in the 287th Field Company, RE in
Singapore Singapore (), officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign island country and city-state in maritime Southeast Asia. It lies about one degree of latitude () north of the equator, off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, bo ...
. After a month of fighting in Malaya, he was taken prisoner along with his cousin Tom Fordham Searle, when Singapore fell to the Japanese. He spent the rest of the war as prisoner, first in
Changi Prison Changi Prison Complex, often known simply as Changi Prison, is a prison in Changi in the eastern part of Singapore. History First prison Before Changi Prison was constructed, the only penal facility in Singapore was at Pearl's Hill, beside t ...
and then in the Kwai jungle, working on the Siam-Burma
Death Railway The Burma Railway, also known as the Siam–Burma Railway, Thai–Burma Railway and similar names, or as the Death Railway, is a railway between Ban Pong, Thailand and Thanbyuzayat, Burma (now called Myanmar). It was built from 1940 to 194 ...
. Searle contracted both beriberi and malaria during his incarceration, which included numerous beatings, and his weight dropped to less than 40 kilograms. He was liberated in late 1945 with the final defeat of the Japanese. After the war, he served as a courtroom artist at the
Nuremberg trials The Nuremberg trials were held by the Allies against representatives of the defeated Nazi Germany, for plotting and carrying out invasions of other countries, and other crimes, in World War II. Between 1939 and 1945, Nazi Germany invaded ...
and later the
Adolf Eichmann Otto Adolf Eichmann ( ,"Eichmann"
'' He married the journalist Kaye Webb in 1947; they had twins, Kate and Johnny. In 1961, Searle moved to Paris, leaving his family; the marriage ended in divorce in 1967. Later he married Monica Koenig, a painter, theatre and jewellery designer. After 1975, Searle and his wife lived and worked in the mountains of Haute Provence. Searle's wife Monica died in July 2011 and he himself died on 30 December 2011, aged 91.

Early work as war artist

Although Searle published the first St Trinian's cartoon in the magazine '' Lilliput'' in 1941, his professional career really begins with his documentation of the brutal camp conditions of his period as a prisoner-of-war of the Japanese in
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a world war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great powers—forming two opposing ...
in a series of drawings that he hid under the mattresses of prisoners dying of cholera. Searle recalled, "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." But Searle survived, along with approximately 300 of his drawings. Liberated late in 1945, Searle returned to England, where he published several of the drawings in fellow prisoner Russell Braddon's ''The Naked Island''. Another of Searle's fellow prisoners later recounted, "If you can imagine something that weighs six stone or so, is on the point of death and has no qualities of the human condition that aren't revolting, calmly lying there with a pencil and a scrap of paper, drawing, you have some idea of the difference of temperament that this man had from the ordinary human being." Most of these drawings appear in his 1986 book, ''Ronald Searle: To the Kwai and Back, War Drawings 1939–1945''. In the book, Searle also wrote of his experiences as a prisoner, including the day he woke up to find a dead friend on either side of him, and a live snake underneath his head: At least one of his drawings is on display at the Changi Museum and Chapel, Singapore, but the majority of his originals are in the permanent collection of the
Imperial War Museum Imperial War Museums (IWM) is a British national museum organisation with branches at five locations in England, three of which are in London. Founded as the Imperial War Museum in 1917, the museum was intended to record the civil and militar ...
, London, along with the works of other POW artists. The best known of these are John Mennie, Jack Bridger Chalker, Philip Meninsky and Ashley George Old.

Magazines, books, and films

Searle produced an extraordinary volume of work during the 1950s, including drawings for ''
Life Life is a quality that distinguishes matter that has biological processes, such as signaling and self-sustaining processes, from that which does not, and is defined by the capacity for growth, reaction to stimuli, metabolism, energy ...
'', '' Holiday'' and '' Punch''. His cartoons appeared in ''
The New Yorker ''The New Yorker'' is an American weekly magazine featuring journalism, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons, and poetry. Founded as a weekly in 1925, the magazine is published 47 times annually, with five of these issues ...
'', the '' Sunday Express'' and the '' News Chronicle''. He compiled more St Trinian's books, which were based on his sister's school and other girls' schools in Cambridge. He collaborated with Geoffrey Willans on the Molesworth books (''Down With Skool!'', 1953, and ''How to be Topp'', 1954), and with Alex Atkinson on travel books. In addition to advertisements and posters, Searle drew the title backgrounds of the Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder film '' The Happiest Days of Your Life''. After moving to Paris in 1961, he worked more on reportage for ''Life'' and ''Holiday'' and less on cartoons. He also continued to work in a broad range of media and created books (including his well-known cat books), animated films and sculpture for commemorative medals, both for the French Mint and the
British Art Medal Society The British Art Medal Society (BAMS) was founded in 1982 to promote the art of the medal through commissions, exhibitions, publications and events. The society is affiliated to FIDEM (the Fédération Internationale de la Médaille d’Art). Mar ...
. Searle did a considerable amount of designing for the cinema, and in 1965, he completed the opening, intermission and closing credits for the comedy film '' Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines'' as well as the 1969 film '' Monte Carlo or Bust!'' In 1975, the full-length cartoon '' Dick Deadeye, or Duty Done'' was released. It is based on the character and songs from ''
H.M.S. Pinafore ''H.M.S. Pinafore; or, The Lass That Loved a Sailor'' is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and a libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It opened at the Opera Comique in London, on 25 May 1878 and ran for 571 performances, whi ...


Searle designed the 1992 delegates medal for the FIDEM XXIII Congress London. It depicted a half-length bust of the renaissance medallist Pisanello and was struck by the
Royal Mint The Royal Mint is the United Kingdom's oldest company and the official maker of British coins. Operating under the legal name The Royal Mint Limited, it is a limited company that is wholly owned by His Majesty's Treasury and is under an exclu ...
. Other notable medals were "Searle at Seventy" (1990) and "Kwai 50th Anniversary" (1991) Medal both struck by Thomas Fattorini Ltd, and "Charles Dickens" (1983) struck by the Birmingham Mint.


In 2010, he gave about 2,200 of his works as permanent loans to Wilhelm Busch Museum,
Hanover Hanover (; german: Hannover ; nds, Hannober) is the capital and largest city of the German States of Germany, state of Lower Saxony. Its 535,932 (2021) inhabitants make it the List of cities in Germany by population, 13th-largest city in Germa ...
(Germany), now renamed Deutsches Museum für Karikatur und Zeichenkunst. Previously the summer palace of George I of Hanover, this museum also holds Searle's archives.


Searle received much recognition for his work, especially in America, including the
National Cartoonists Society The National Cartoonists Society (NCS) is an organization of professional cartoonists in the United States. It presents the National Cartoonists Society Awards. The Society was born in 1946 when groups of cartoonists got together to entertain the ...
's Advertising and Illustration Award in 1959 and 1965, the Reuben Award in 1960, their Illustration Award in 1980 and their Advertising Award in 1986 and 1987. Searle was appointed
Commander of the Order of the British Empire The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the civil service. It was established ...
in 2004. In 2007, he was decorated with one of France's highest awards, the Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur, and in 2009, he received the German Lower Saxony Order of Merit.


His work has had a great deal of influence, particularly on American cartoonists, including Pat Oliphant, Matt Groening, Hilary Knight, and the animators of Disney's '' 101 Dalmatians''. He was an early influence on
John Lennon John Winston Ono Lennon (born John Winston Lennon; 9 October 19408 December 1980) was an English singer, songwriter, musician and peace activist who achieved worldwide fame as founder, co-songwriter, co-lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist of ...
's drawing style which featured in the books ''
In His Own Write ''In His Own Write'' is a 1964 nonsense book by English musician John Lennon. His first book, it consists of poems and short stories ranging from eight lines to three pages, as well as illustrations. After Lennon showed journalist Michael B ...
'' and ''
A Spaniard in the Works ''A Spaniard in the Works'' is a nonsense book by English musician John Lennon, first published on 24 June 1965. The book consists of nonsensical stories and drawings similar to the style of his previous book, 1964's '' In His Own Write''. The ...
''. Anglia Ruskin University has named the Ronald Searle Award for Creativity in the Arts in his honour. Searle was an admiring friend of, and admired by, the great satirical humorist S. J. Perelman. Searle was also a very important influence on the young Gerald Scarfe.


St Trinian's

* ''Hurrah For St Trinians'', 1948 * ''The Female Approach: The Belles of St. Trinian's and Other Cartoons'', 1950 * ''Back To The Slaughterhouse, and Other Ugly Moments'', 1951 * ''The Terror of St Trinian's, or Angela's Prince Charming'', 1952 (with Timothy Shy ( D. B. Wyndham-Lewis)) * ''Souls in Torment'', 1953 (preface by
Cecil Day-Lewis Cecil Day-Lewis (or Day Lewis; 27 April 1904 – 22 May 1972), often written as C. Day-Lewis, was an Irish-born British poet and Poet Laureate from 1968 until his death in 1972. He also wrote mystery stories under the pseudonym of Nicholas Bla ...
) * ''The St Trinian's Story'', 1959 (with Kaye Webb) * ''St Trinian's: The Cartoons'', 2007 * ''St. Trinian's: The Entire Appalling Business'', 2008


* ''Down With Skool!: A Guide to School Life for Tiny Pupils and Their Parents'', 1953 (with Geoffrey Willans) * ''How to be Topp: A Guide to Sukcess for Tiny Pupils, Including All There is to Kno About Space'', 1954 (with Geoffrey Willans) * ''Whizz for Atomms: A Guide to Survival in the 20th Century for Fellow Pupils, their Doting Maters, Pompous Paters and Any Others who are Interested'', 1956 (with Geoffrey Willans) Published in the U.S. as ''Molesworth's Guide to the Atommic Age'' * ''Back in the Jug Agane'', 1959 (with Geoffrey Willans) * ''The Compleet Molesworth'', 1958 (collection) ''Molesworth'' (1999 Penguin reprint)

Other works

*''Forty Drawings'' (1946) *''White Coolie'', 1947 (with Ronald Hastain) *''This England 1946–1949'', 1949 (edited by Audrey Hilton) *''The Stolen Journey'', 1950 (with Oliver Philpot) *''An Irishman's Diary'', 1950 (with Patrick Campbell) *''Dear Life'', 1950 (with
H. E. Bates Herbert Ernest Bates (16 May 1905 – 29 January 1974), better known as H. E. Bates, was an English writer. His best-known works include '' Love for Lydia'', '' The Darling Buds of May'', and '' My Uncle Silas''. Early life H.E. Bates wa ...
) *''Paris Sketchbook'', 1950 (with Kaye Webb) (repr. 1958) *''A Sleep of Prisoners'', 1951 (with Christopher Fry) *''Life in Thin Slices'', 1951 (with Patrick Campbell) *''The Naked Island'', 1952 (with Russell Braddon) *''It Must be True'', 1952 (with Denys Parsons) *''London—So Help Me!'', 1952 (with Winifred Ellis) *'' The Diverting History of John Gilpin'', 1953 (text by
William Cowper William Cowper ( ; 26 November 1731 – 25 April 1800) was an English poet and Anglican hymnwriter. One of the most popular poets of his time, Cowper changed the direction of 18th-century nature poetry by writing of everyday life and sce ...
) *''Looking at London and People Worth Meeting'', 1953 (with Kaye Webb) *''Six Animal Plays'', 1952 (text by Frank Carpenter) *''The Dark is Light Enough'', 1954 (with Christopher Fry) *''Patrick Campbells Omnibus'', 1954 (with Patrick Campbell) *''The Journal of Edwin Carp'', 1954 (edited by Richard Haydn) *''Modern Types'', 1955 (with Geoffrey Gorer) *''The Rake's Progress'', 1955 *''Merry England, Etc'', 1956 *''Anglo-Saxon Attitudes'', 1956 (with Angus Wilson) *''The Big City or the New Mayhew '', 1958 (with Alex Atkinson) *''The Dog's Ear Book'', 1958 (with Geoffrey Willans) *''USA for Beginners'', 1959 (with Alex Atkinson) *''Anger of Achilles: Homer's Iliad'', 1959 (translation by
Robert Graves Captain Robert von Ranke Graves (24 July 1895 – 7 December 1985) was a British poet, historical novelist and critic. His father was Alfred Perceval Graves, a celebrated Irish poet and figure in the Gaelic revival; they were both Celti ...
) *''By Rocking Horse Across Russia'', 1960 (with Alex Atkinson) *''Penguin Ronald Searle'', 1960 *''Refugees 1960: A Report in Words and Pictures'', 1960 (with Kaye Webb) *''The Biting Eye of Andre Francois'' (1960) *''Which Way Did He Go?'', 1961 *''A Christmas Carol'', 1961 (with
Charles Dickens Charles John Huffam Dickens (; 7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian e ...
) *''The 13 Clocks and the Wonderful O'', 1962 (with
James Thurber James Grover Thurber (December 8, 1894 – November 2, 1961) was an American cartoonist, writer, humorist, journalist and playwright. He was best known for his cartoons and short stories, published mainly in '' The New Yorker'' and collected i ...
) *''Searle in the Sixties'', 1964 *''From Frozen North to Filthy Lucre'', 1964 *''Haven't We Met Before Somewhere?'', 1966 *''Searle's Cats'', 1967 *''The Square Egg'', 1968 *''Take One Toad'', 1968 *''This Business of Bomfog'', 1969 (with Madelaine Duke) *''Monte Carlo Or Bust'', 1969 (with E. W. Hildick) *''Hello, where did all the people go?'', 1969 *''The Second Coming of Toulouse-Lautrec'', 1969 *''Secret Sketchbook'', 1969 *''The Great Fur Opera: Annals of the Hudson's Bay Company 1670–1970'', 1970 (with Kildare Dobbs)The Great Fur Opera
illustrated for the
Hudson's Bay Company The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC; french: Compagnie de la Baie d'Hudson) is a Canadian retail business group. A fur trading business for much of its existence, HBC now owns and operates retail stores in Canada. The company's namesake business d ...
*''Scrooge'', 1970 (with Elaine Donaldson) *''Mr. Lock of St. James's Street'', 1971 (with Frank Whitbourn) *''The Addict'', 1971 *''More Cats'', 1975 *''Dick Dead Eye'', 1975 (after
Gilbert and Sullivan Gilbert and Sullivan was a Victorian-era theatrical partnership of the dramatist W. S. Gilbert (1836–1911) and the composer Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900), who jointly created fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which ''H.M.S. Pin ...
) *''Paris! Paris!'', 1977 (with Irwin Shaw) *''Zodiac'', 1977 *''Ronald Searle'', 1978 *''The King of Beasts & Other Creatures'', 1980 *''The Situation is Hopeless'', 1980 *''Winning the Restaurant Game'', 1980 (with Jay Jacobs) *''Too Many Songs by Tom Lehrer With Not Enough Drawings by Ronald Searle'', 1981 *''Ronald Searle's Big Fat Cat Book'', 1982 *''The Illustrated Winespeak'', 1983 *''Ronald Searle in Perspective'', 1983 *''Ronald Searle's Golden Oldies 1941–1961'', 1985 *''Something in the Cellar'', 1986 *''To the Kwai and Back: War Drawings 1939–1945'' (1986) *''Ronald Searle's Non-Sexist Dictionary'', 1988 *''Ah Yes, I Remember It Well...: Paris 1961–1975'', 1988 *''Slightly Foxed But Still Desirable: Ronald Searle's Wicked World of Book Collecting'', 1989 *''Marquis De Sade Meets Goody Two-Shoes'', 1994 *''The Tales of Grandpa Cat'', 1994 (with Lee Wardlaw) *''The Hatless Man'', 1995 (with Sarah Kortum) *''A French Affair : The Paris Beat, 1965–1998'', 1999 (with Mary Blume) *''Wicked Etiquette'', 2000 (with Sarah Kortum) *''Ronald Searle in Le Monde'', 2001 *''Railway of Hell: A Japanese POW's Account of War, Capture and Forced Labour'', 2002 (with Reginald Burton) *''Searle's Cats'', 2005 (New and Expanded Edition, all illustrations are new) *''The Scrapbook Drawings", 2005'' *''Cat O' Nine Tales: And Other Stories'', 2006 (with
Jeffrey Archer Jeffrey Howard Archer, Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare (born 15 April 1940) is an English novelist, life peer, convicted criminal, and former politician. Before becoming an author, Archer was a Member of Parliament (1969–1974), but did not ...
) *''Beastly Feasts: A Mischievous Menagerie in Rhyme'', 2007 (with Robert Forbes) *''More Scraps & Watteau Revisited'', 2008 *''Let's Have a Bite!: A Banquet of Beastly Rhymes'', 2010 (with Robert Forbes) *''What! Already?: Searle at 90'', 2010 *''Les Très Riches Heures de Mrs Mole'', 2011 *''What Am I Still Doing Here?'', 2011 (with
Roger Lewis Roger Lewis (born 26 February 1960) is a Welsh academic, biographer and journalist. Biography Lewis was raised in Bedwas, Monmouthshire, and educated at Bassaleg School in Newport. He then attended the University of St Andrews, graduating M ...

See also

* Musée Tomi Ungerer/Centre international de l’illustration * War artist


Further reading

"Ronald Searle: a life in pictures"
Steve Bell, ''The Guardian''. 9 March 2010.
"Aged 90, Ronald Searle recalls the bad girls of St Trinian's"
Valerie Grove. ''Times Online''. 20 February 2010.
"St Trinian's creator Searle reaches 90"
Nicholas Glass. ''Channel 4 News''. 2 March 2010.
Interview on BBC Radio 4
'' Desert Island Discs'', 10 July 2005
1945 illustration
– '' OECD Observer'', No 246-247, Dec 2004 – Jan 2005 – (Retrieved 4 January 2012)
Scion of a Noble Line: Interview with Ronald Searle
''The Guardian''. December 2000.
Article by Harry Mount
The Spectator ''The Spectator'' is a weekly British magazine on politics, culture, and current affairs. It was first published in July 1828, making it the oldest surviving weekly magazine in the world. It is owned by Frederick Barclay, who also owns '' T ...
'', 10 March 2010
Der freigezeichnete Gefangene
Wilhelm Platthaus, '' Frankfurter Allgemeine'', 27 February 2010 * ''Ronald Searle in Perspective'' (1984) * ''Ronald Searle'', intro. by Henning Bock & essay by Paul Dehaye (1978)

External links

Biography and samples

in ''
Le Monde ''Le Monde'' (; ) is a French daily afternoon newspaper. It is the main publication of Le Monde Group and reported an average circulation of 323,039 copies per issue in 2009, about 40,000 of which were sold abroad. It has had its own website s ...
Comiclopedia: Ronald Searle
Cover of the 1947 Christmas edition
of the
Radio Times ''Radio Times'' (currently styled as ''RadioTimes'') is a British weekly listings magazine devoted to television and radio programme schedules, with other features such as interviews, film reviews and lifestyle items. Founded in May 1923 by ...
, by Searle {{DEFAULTSORT:Searle, Ronald 1920 births 2011 deaths Alumni of Anglia Ruskin University Artists from Cambridge British Army personnel of World War II British World War II prisoners of war Burma Railway prisoners Chevaliers of the Légion d'honneur Commanders of the Order of the British Empire Courtroom sketch artists English caricaturists English cartoonists English comics artists English expatriates in France English illustrators English emigrants to France Punch (magazine) cartoonists Reuben Award winners Royal Engineers soldiers The New Yorker cartoonists World War II prisoners of war held by Japan