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.
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. . .
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 . . .