The British and Ronald Searle

Searle is 90 tomorrow and Channel 4 News ran a tribute interview. Typically, the commentary had to have a little attitudinising.

At prep school, my parents gave me Molesworth books and I loved them. They were, of course, ideal for a boy in the kind of school they satirised. I expect we were the books’ core market, and for all I know Searle’s appeal didn’t really extend beyond the middle class. Still, those were fluid times and I know that Rowland Emmett’s Festival of Britain fantasy machines – they were Searle-like in artistry – were popular across the board.

Anyway, my beef with the C4 item was a silly little remark from Nicholas Glass. He had been talking about Searle’s drawings from his Japanese prisoner of war camp and, later, from Eichmann’s Nuremburg trial. “But”, opined our arts savant, effortlessly conveying the width and strength of his own sensibility, “the British were more comfortable with the lighter stuff”. (I have busked for the last three or four words of that sentence, but have been true to the meaning.)

Mr Glass perhaps hadn’t considered that the generation who bought these books for their kids had been through the war and if they chose to delight in the brighter, lighter side of life it might be because they’d seen plenty of the dark side.

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Publication date

02 March 2010