CHRIS MANN: Ronald Searle inspired a generation of artists and cartoonists. Earlier I spoke to the Sun‘s editorial cartoonist Andy Davey, himself a Cambridge resident, who is Chairman of the Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation.
ANDY DAVEY: Well he was hugely respected in the UK by the people who mattered, really, the best cartoonists of this current generation, and previous generations as well. Because he lived such a long life, and worked in so many areas, and influenced those areas, that it’s no surprise that these people thought of him as the great that he was. He influenced everything, I think, from the 1950s onwards. And I think you could say that he probably created the standard cartoonist’s form of the 1960s, which was that scratchy Punch-style. He influenced people back then like Michael Ffolkes from the Punch, and of course Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman too.
CHRIS MANN: Scarfe and Steadman have gone on to worldwide fame pretty much.
ANDY DAVEY: Yes.
CHRIS MANN: They are massively popular .. Steadman in particular in America. And you can see quite clearly the connection from his style to theirs, that sort of spidery look, isn’t it?
ANDY DAVEY: Yes. Which was quite revolutionary really, at the time, in the ’50s, when his style crystallised. Because most cartoon representations then were quite faithful to the form of a human figure. But he stretched everything that he made, the St Trinians girls, who were either fat and dumpy or spindly. And the style developed into his own spindly inky scratchy style, which people then copied. And it really informed the whole of the 1960s satire boom, which Scarfe and Steadman were at the forefront of. And subsequently it influenced people like Steve Bell of the Guardian and Martin Rosen.
CHRIS MANN: And the spidery thing, there was a sense of humour about it as well, not quite taking everything very seriously.
ANDY DAVEY: No. I think that’s right. And that probably was good fodder for the incipient satire movement, which was exploding at the time, with Peter Cook and Private Eye. And of course he actually influenced John Lennon in his poetry books.
CHRIS MANN: Oh really?
ANDY DAVEY: Well Lennon published a couple of daft poetry books in the ’60s, one called In His Own Write, another one called a Spaniard in the Works. And they were illustrated with spindly drawings, which looked very much like Searle’s drawings.
CHRIS MANN: And tell me, St Trinians, that in itself was something completely different at the time.
ANDY DAVEY: Yes it was. It was irreverent I think, which was the shock at the time, presenting schoolgirls in that fashion.
CHRIS MANN: And coming from Cambridge, which of course you’re a Cambridge man yourself, and we believe the connection with the famous Cambridge school is pretty strong, that he would have enjoyed sending it up like that.
ANDY DAVEY: Yes he would. He was obviously a man who enjoyed sending things up. But there was a serious side to him of course, because of his experience on the Burma/Siam railway in the war, when he was imprisoned by the Japanese. And one of the startling things about his work was the work that eh smuggled out, the reportage work that he smuggled out whilst in the camps. And he drew on the spot scenes from Japanese prisoner of war camps. And the very idea that a man is compelled so strongly to draw something under the possible pain of death if discovered is, from the perspective of a comfy chair in a studio is quite remarkable. I really can’t imagine just how compelled you are to draw under those circumstances. And the drawings he produced are really stunningly powerful.
CHRIS MANN: A remarkable man and a remarkable life.
ANDY DAVEY: Indeed.
17:22 Tuesday 3rd Jamuary 2012
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire