A British illustrator
, born in Cambridge
on 3 March 1920, for many years resident in France. He is appreciated as a serious and skilled depicter
of everyday life and quiet studies of interesting people: at least among the cognoscenti
. However, he is far more widely known for his two hilarious and anarchic
schools, St Trinian's
the girls' school, and St Custard's
of the Molesworth
The style in both is characteristic: the background is littered with empty gin bottles, cigarettes, skulls and bones of children who've died on the playing field, vultures circling; the children are fat-faced, freckled, the adults are gangly and sharply angled; all full of violence, fear, stupidity, cunning, shattered innocence, bloodlust, or calculation.
He studied at the Cambridge School of Art, becoming cartoonist for the Cambridge Daily News at the age of 15; joined the Royal Engineers, and in 1941 was imprisoned by the Japanese in Singapore and working on the Burma Railway for some years. In these conditions he developed his talents by observing his fellow prisoners.
On his return he created many individual cartoons depicting hellish schoolgirls waving hockey sticks and mowing down their weaker fellows, at a stalag-like gothic school called St Trinian's. The first was published in 1948. As well as several books of pictures by himself alone, he collaborated with Timothy Shy (pen-name for the humorist D.B. Wyndham-Lewis) on a book The Terror of St Trinian's (1952). These works were developed into classic British comedy films, but Searle himself wanted to be rid of them and move on. The final book (Souls in Torment, 1953) ended with St Trinian's wiped out by the girls' over-enthusiastic experimenting with nuclear weapons.
In the 1950s he worked with Geoffrey Willans, a schoolteacher, on the creation of Nigel Molesworth and all the rest of the horrid schoolboys of St Custard's, in the four books of the Molesworth series, cut short by Willans' early death.
He moved to Paris in 1961, and to a small village in Haute-Provence in 1975. Another collaboration of his is with his wife Kaye Webb, creator of Puffin Books, in a tour of Paris called A Paris Sketchbook, given the brief simply to depict the city and enjoy it in any way they saw fit. Many books and exhibitions folllowed. He is far more honoured and respected for his serious work in France than in the countries that only know him by his early work.