Monday, June 16, 2008

Smoking books: Ronald Searle

The British cartoonist Ronald Searle, known for his St. Trinians' cartoons and for his work on the Nigel Molesworth books ("A gerund left out. No place for it in one of my sentences."), was a prisoner of war in Burma and Changi during the Second World War. During this time, through illness and malnutrition, he went from 11 to 7 stone. Well-known are his sketches from this period, many executed with a burnt-match on whatever scraps of paper were to hand, and often hidden from the guards by leaving them under the bodies of those who had died of disease.
Like many POWs he was an avid smoker, but cigarette paper was at a premium. He would smoke the blank corners of his drawings, newspapers, and even, after he had read it five times, half of Pickwick Papers (but which half? Searle is mute on this subject).
Another book to be enjoyed twice, as it were, was Rose Macaulay's Minor Pleasures of Life. Many years later he met Macaulay, and "told her I had been able to add a further minor pleasure to her anthology. Sad to say she was not amused, looked me up and down with distaste and turned her back to talk to someone more respectable. Dickens, I feel, would have been more understanding."


marah suri said...

Wow! What a remarkably humourless and unsympathetic response from someone who had to rebuild her whole library when her London flat was destroyed in the Blitz.

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Matthew Fishburn said...

Hello Marah --
Thanks for taking the time to comment. Maybe Macaulay thought Searle was pissing in her pocket? Easy enough mistake to make. "Hello, we haven't met, but I did enjoy making your book into a packet of cigarettes."