Monday, April 27, 2009

Festival Of Britain

Searle was involved in the 1951 Festival Of Britain in several aspects, not the least of which was his contribution to the 'Painter & Poet' series of films produced by Halas & Batchelor. Searle created an adaptation of Cowper's 'The Diverting History of John Gilpin'. The still drawings he produced were later released as a book.

'. . . As previously mentioned, the main attraction at the Telekinema was the showcasing of new cinematic The Painter and Poet series of four black and white art films, each under ten minutes long was produced by the British animators John Halas and Joy Batchelor. Artists including Mervyn Peake, Henry Moore and Ronald Searle created visual impressions of eight poems, narrated by such luminaries of the acting profession as Michael Redgrave, John Laurie, Eric Portman and Stanley Holloway. It was recognised that the films were ‘agreeable and enterprising [and that] they illustrate some of the possibilities of the technique even if, occasionally, they fail to realise them’. The most liked was Ronald
Searle’s interpretation of the William Cowper poem The Story of John Gilpin. One critic referred to Searle’s drawing as ‘so dynamic, it is difficult to realise that no picture on the screen is moving’.

Film and the Festival of Britain 1951 This article by Sarah Easen, Cataloguer, BUFVC and Curator of the NFT Festival of Britain Season and Exhibition, highlights the spectrum of films made specifically for the Festival of Britain celebrations in 1951. Over twenty films were produced including a biopic on the life of William Friese-Greene, documentaries by Humphrey Jennings and Basil Wright as well as several Norman McLaren experimental 3-D films.

Festival of Britain: Woolly Smothers M.P to Herbert Morrison: “And what’s more Sir – I still think it would be a waste of money if it weren’t such a success!”.
Pen and ink. 8x8 inches 1951.

'Rowland Emett at the Festival of Britain'
signed and dated 'Ronald Searle 1952'
pen and black ink, 14 1/4 x 10 1/4 in.

Searle's contemporary at Punch magazine Rowland Emett designed installations for the festival

The hard-copy Catalogue of the 1951 Festival of Britain Sherlock Holmes Exhibition contains a number of illustrations by Ronald Searle
Sherlock Holmes Catalogue of an Exhibition Held at Abbey House, Baker Street, London May - September 1951
(Public Libraries Committee of the Borough of St. Marylebone for the Festival of Britian, 1951. Frontispiece drawing by Ronald Searle of a reconstruction of the living-room at 221B Baker Street. )


*Sight & Sound magazine "Films in 1951: A Special Publication on British Films and Film-Makers" for the Festival of Britain.

"PAINTER AND POET"..a novel experiment, these series of films came about when a number of modern artists were asked to illustrate a poem of their own choosing: the finished films combine the drawings or paintings, a narrator or singer of the poem, and specially composed music. The artists who have contributed to the films are Henry Moore, Ronald Searle, Michael Ayrton, Mervyn Peake, John Minton, Michael Rothenstein, Barbara Jones and Michael Warre. Sponsored by the British Film Institute, "Painter and Poet" was produced by the John Halas company in association with Joan Maude and Michael Warre, who originated the idea and devised the script. The music is by Matyas Seiber.

SIGHT AND SOUND Number Volume 20 No. 2 Date: June 1951

Punch magazine issued a special souvenir edition published April 30th 1951. With twice as many pages as a regular issue the magazine features several Searle illustrations. In this terrific colour painting below we can see Searle working in the styles of great British artists such as William Blake and Henry Moore.

Leaning against the wall is the painting in progress.

This full page spread features crams in dozens of the most well known British actors and actresses of the day.

For more of Searle's Punch Theatre work follow this link.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Big City or The New Mayhew

Searle's "London" book, used as a starting point Henry Mayhew's 'London Labour and London Poor'. Above is the artwork for the original edition released through Searle's own publishing outfit Perpetua.

The sketch below, in blue ink on the title-page, illustrates an elderly man up a ladder, pasting up a poster (the printed book title), inscribed "Embellished by Ronald for Jean, the right hand of Perpetua."
(From the collection of the late Jean Ellsmoor, who acted as Searle's secretary from 1956 to 1977.)
(The Big City or the New Mayhew, FIRST EDITION, AUTHOR'S PRESENTATION COPY, WITH ORIGINAL ILLUSTRATION, on the title-page, inscribed by author and illustrator, illustrations, publisher's cloth, dust-jacket, 4to, Perpetua, 1958)

'Alex Atkinson came up with the notion of inhabiting the style of Henry Mayhew, one of the Victorian founders of Punch, and producing a modern equivalent of his London Labour and the London Poor. There being less outright shocking squalor in mid-Fifties London-less interesting squalor, perhaps-Atkinson concentrated instead on a class more characteristic of the age: those pathetically defiant strugglers of inner-suburban bedsitter-land, where ambition finally learns to die . . .

. . . With few but striking exceptions, such as a most wondrously innocuous vicar, Searle's character-studies have in common a projecting lower lip that tells of stubborness giving way slowly to misery . . .

. . . The 'New Mayhew' pieces, later to be collected by Perpetua under the title The Big City, operate right on the line between humour and melancholy; textually and graphically, they tread it with a delicacy that now seems to belong as securely to the long-ago as Mayhew himself. To be made to laugh at the 'type', and yet feel sorry for the reality it stands for, is more than one expects from such a book'.

Ronald Searle by Russell Davies

A moving picture girl/page 25 The Big City/Budding actress' 

Punch, 2 May 1956.

Alex Atkinson and Ronald Searle, The Big City: or The New Mayhew, Perpetua Books, London, 1958, p25 

'Encyclopaedia Salesman'

Punch, 23 May 1956.

The Big City: or The New Mayhew, Perpetua Books, London, 1958, p.41

'The exile' 
pen and black ink and grey wash 

Punch & The Big City, London, 1958, p. 54

'A seller of ice-cream, nuts, etc.' 
pen and brown ink and brown wash

The Big City: of the New Mayhew, Perpetua Books, London, 1958, p. 81
Punch, 15 February 1958 issue.

'An Actress of Advancing Years'

(Thanks to Elliot Elam for contributing scans)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


While on a Greek theme here's Searle's cover illustration for Robert Graves' Homeric translation 'The Anger of Achilles'

The US edition had interior illustrations too.

An extract appeared in Harper's Bazaar 1959

Portrait of Graves, 1950