Monday, August 26, 2013

'The Mahogany Tree'

British satirical magazine Punch famously had a table installed at their offices where the subject of the week's political cartoon would be decided.  A seat at the table was strictly reserved for members only but on the 7th April 1953 Searle was the first guest since Mark Twain to be permitted to observe proceedings.  He was later to become the youngest member of the Punch cabal, his beard only just tolerated by the older men!  'At the invitation of the new editor, Malcolm Muggeridge, a self- confessed 'addict' of Searle's work who wished to bind him closer to the magazine' (Russell Davies).

It was customary that each member or guest inscribe their initials into the surface lacquer-and Searle, in typical fashion, etched an elegantly gothic R.S.

The position of Searle's initials on the table can be determined from this diagram from the Punch Cartoons website.  It's at the centre bottom.

On his first lunch at the Punch Table on the first of February 1956 Searle recorded the welcome exended to him and took note of where each were sat at the table:

Alan Agnew: 'The first business is to welcome to the table Ronald Searle.  I'm sure we all hope he will enjoy our company and conversation as much as we shall enjoy having him with us.

A.A. Milne died the night before 'They replaced him quickly' said somebody.
Malcolm M. (Muggeridge) was on the ferry boat delayed from France, Russell (Brockbank) was in the editorial chair.
Basil Boothroyd - I'd like to add my personal congratulations now I'm not the youngest member.'

This last notation reinforces just how conservative the group was:
'First beard at the table since 1901.  The last was E.T. Reed and he was sacked for homosexuality.'

Punch cartoonists Bill hewison and Russell Brockbank are observed in this 1962 Pathe newsreel on the magazine's cartoonists and the table. 

In this video of out-takes the above 1961 cover can be glimpsed on the wall display bottom right

To celebrate this prestigious membership Searle bought himself a handsome 1955 1st edition of Picasso's Graphic Works. (Recently sold on eBay)

In this photo published in Russell Davies' biography of Searle we see James Thurber visit the Punch offices with a young Searle seated next to him on the left.  One of his 'Heroes of Our Time' pictures hangs on the wall beyond him.

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