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Friday, April 13, 2012

Remembering Ronald Searle part 1

After Ronald's death animation news site Cartoon Brew asked me to write a tribute but I also wanted to share the story of how I got to meet him and the subsequent visits I was able to make. I hope to give readers an idea of what it was like to meet Ronald and an introduction to the wonderful Provencal village he lived in.  I'll split it up into parts which should be more digestable.

Between 2006-2008 I was working in France, initially in Paris for four months then later in Nice on the Cote d'Azur.  Living in the south I was aware that my drawing hero Ronald Searle resided somewhere nearby in the hills of haute Provence.  I was aware too that he had moved there in the 70s and was a very private person.  The last filmed interviews with him in his fifties revealed an intimidating wit and intelligence yet I still wondered if I could find him in his hilltop retreat. I found out the name of the village where he lives in an old interview in the Guardian and one bright Sunday morning in February 2008 set out west to find Tourtour-the 'village in the clouds'.
Taking the highway west from Nice, past Cannes towards Draguignan a very pleasurable drive took me ever higher and into more remote landscape, leaving the tourist infested coast behind. The winding road rises through Flayosc giving way to spectacular views of Provence and the Luberon-on a clear day Mont St Victoire, famously painted by Cezanne, is visible.

The route eventually brought me to the old stone portal that is the main entrance to Tourtour. Parking in this out of season month was no problem and I set out on foot to explore the village.  Now at this point I had no contact with Searle and as I walked around the village I wondered which house was his and can't deny peeking through the odd window or looking for his name on post boxes!  Of course I didn't see him strolling around the village or sipping pastis at a cafĂ© terrasse either.
The village is deemed one of the most picturesque in France and I took the opportunity to sketch. I found what I considered the most interesting corner; the old fountain-place in the shadow of an ancient tree and sat in the sun to draw a quick pen sketch with some ink wash.






Breaking for lunch I moved up to the church perched on the highest point in the village.  With the breathtaking 180 degree view of Provence before me I penned a respectful fan letter to Searle explaining that I was a British animation artist working nearby and hugely influenced and inspired by his work.  If there was any chance of meeting I'd be most grateful.  I tore out the drawing of the fountain-place from my sketchbook and put it with the letter in an envelope then went back down into the village to find the post office.  Of course it was closed on a Sunday but I thought the tourist information office may help and fortunately the lady running it was helpful enough to offer to pass my letter to Mr Searle with whom she was acquainted.  I later learnt that everyone in the village knew the Searles.

I left soon after doubting my letter would ever be delivered and who the heck am I anyway thinking I could reach the great Ronald Searle.  But I was glad I had tried and it was a wonderful day out in beautiful surroundings.  I headed back down towards the Mediterranean and home to Nice. . .
A couple of days later I was delighted to receive a letter addressed to me in Searle's characteristic spidery hand writing-a reply! The response was curt but polite- he thanked me for the drawing, which he said he liked very much, and that a meeting would be possible in a couple of months once he and his wife had returned from their annual stay in Paris for medical treatment.

I was over the moon!  The Searles' health issues postponed the rendezvous several months and once the hot summer months had passed Searle seemed receptive to a meeting in September 2008 . . .

8 comments:

docnad said...

So that's how it's done!

Matt J said...

Discreet stalking!

Paul Nixon said...

Great. Can't wait for the next instalment.

Jamie Baker said...

Hero-stalking par excellence!

ghulam sarwar said...

thank you for sharing

Professor Pepper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Professor Pepper said...

Nicely deduced! A partnership in an artistic detective agency cannot be far behind...

Jeff Hoyle said...

Fantastic story. I imagine myself doing the same thing!