“A chiz is a swiz or swindle as any fule kno.”*
Today is the birthday of Ronald William Fordham Searle, CBE, RDI (March 3, 1920 – December 30, 2011) who was a British artist and illustrator, best remembered as the creator of St. Trinian’s School
and for his collaboration with Geoffrey Willans on the Molesworth series.
We were very fond of Ronald Searle growing up and my family always read aloud the Christmas chapter from How to Be Topp on Christmas Eve.
Searle grew up in Cambridge. At the age of 19 he gave up his art studies and joined the Royal Engineers at the start of WWII. Searle was stationed in Singapore. After a month of fighting in Malaya, Singapore fell to the Japanese, and he was taken prisoner. He spent the rest of the war as a prisoner, first in Changi Prison and then in the Kwai jungle, working on the Siam-Burma Death Railway. He contracted both beri-beri and malaria. He was liberated in late 1945 with the final defeat of the Japanese.
I have a copy of his book Ronald Searle To the Kwai and Back, War Drawings 1939–1945, an amazing pictorial record of his war years, three of them in Japanese prisoner of war camps.
In it he recorded the “grafitti of a condemned man, intending to leave a rough witness of his passing through, but who found himself–to the surprise and delight–among the reprieved.”
Immediately after the war, he served as a courtroom artist at the Nuremberg trials.
Like many funny men, he had a very serious past.
So a birthday toast to Ronald Searle!
And another toast to George Kennedy who died last Sunday. Like Searle, he was 91 when he died and had a long, interesting life. A prolific actor of film and television, he won a best supporting Oscar for Cool Hand Luke (1967) and made several movies with John Wayne, including Cahill U.S. Marshall (1973), The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) and In Harm’s Way (1965). He also had memorable parts in Charade (1963), Bandolero! (1968) and The Dirty Dozen (1967).
Quite a career. Any of these movies are worth watching. As for me, it might be time to watch The Sons of Katie Elder again.
*Molesworth, “Down with Skool!” (1953)