Exploring the career of one of Britain's most celebrated graphic satirists.
Cartoonist Ronald Searle is best known as the creator of St Trinian’s, a fictional girls’ boarding school that became the subject of a popular series of books in the 1950s. However Searle’s first St Trinian’s drawings actually appeared in Lilliput magazine as early as 1941, but shortly after its publication the artist was posted to fight in Singapore where he was captured and imprisoned by Japanese forces.
Serving first at Changi Prison and then on the Siam-Burma Death railway in the Kwai Jungle, conditions were torturous; as well as contracting beri-beri and malaria while in camp, he was beaten and starved until his weight dropped to just six stone.
Throughout this time he continued to draw, saying ‘I desperately wanted to put down what was happening because I thought by any chance if there was a record, even if I died, someone might know what went on’. Searle hid the drawings under his mattress and by the time of his release in 1945 he had over 300 works documenting the brutality he has been subjected to, as well as the horrific deaths of his fellow prisoners.
After working as a courtroom artist in the Nuremburg trials he returned to England and started to make new cartoons about the St Trinian’s girls, but now the content was a lot darker. The girls drank, gambled and smoked, took part in violent team sports and murdered each other with pitchforks.
This exhibition in the city where he was born and raised spans his diverse career; from his works as a war artist – now featured in museum collections around the world – to the St Trinian’s cartoons that brought him acclaim, as well as the artwork he produced for other books, magazines, travelogues, film credits, medal designs and political caricature.