Recommended Retro Reading: Ronald Searle’s “Back to the Slaughterhouse”

Ronald Searle’s Back to the Slaughterhouse (1951)

Ronald Searle’s Back to the Slaughterhouse is a smashing collection of St Trinian’s and other cartoons, published in 1951.

From the fly leaf…

“O! It’s back to the slaughterhouse, lasses and lads
Back to the weltering gore,
Back to the thumbscrews and back to the rack
That we loved in the dear days of yore!
We loved in the dear days of yore.”

“There’s is no positive record that the above lines come from one of the songs that the girls of St Trinian’s have chanted in dormitory feasts since time quite unmentionable, but they are closely in attune with the unique esprit de corps which permeates every corner of this celebrated academy for young gentlewomen can hardly be denied.

“In this collection of the best of Searle, there are numerous skirmishes with the pretty dears including a personal introduction to Rachel, rare pearl among monitors.

“The girls do not have it all their own way, however, and Mr Searle has provided a wide variety of other ugly moments in the course of human destiny to distress and delight the gentle reader at one and the same time.”

Ronald Searle’s Back to the Slaughterhouse (1951)
Ronald Searle’s Back to the Slaughterhouse (1951)

Ronald Searle died on 30th December 2011 in Draguignan, Provence, aged 91, leaving an incredible legacy of amazing art that spanned seven decades, including cartoons, illustrations, reportage drawings, commercial graphics and animation – a unique life’s work of established international reputation.

His distinctive, masterful stroke, combined with British humour, rich knowledge, an unflagging curiosity and imagination and a deep humanity made him one of the most influential cartoonists of his time.

Ronald Searle. Image: German Museum of Caricature and Drawing

Born in Cambridge, England in 1920, Ronald Searle had already published his first cartoons in the Cambridge Daily News by the age of 15. In 1938 he began a scholarship to study at the Cambridge School of Art, but a year later he was drafted into the British Army and in 1942 sent to the war effort in the Far East. His experiences as a young soldier in Japanese captivity during World War Searle influenced not only him: drawing the Thai jungle was, for him, a survival strategy. His experiences gave him a deep understanding of human nature, which shows in all his work.

After his return from captivity Ronald Searle’s cartoons were soon gracing the pages of satirical magazine Punch – especially his stories about the schoolgirls of St. Trinian’s, one of Britain’s best-known cartoon creations outside of The Beano. His reportage drawings of travels through Europe, the Middle East or the Americas in the 1960s made him internationally known and his animation work opened doors in Hollywood. In his great cycles of paintings of the 1970s and 1980s, animals, especially cats, played a central role, offering an enjoyable bestiary with human behaviour.

Art by Ronald Searle

At the age of 75, Searle took the offer of the French daily newspaper Le Monde, who published his work for for 13 years, drawing regular political cartoons, with the issues of war and power often providing the subject matter.

Ronald Searle was first married to journalist and editor Kaye Webb and had two children, twins Kate and John.

In 1961, he moved to Paris and married his second wife, the artist and stage designer Monica Koenig Stirling, in 1967. From 1977 to Monica and Ronald lived in Tour in Southern France. Monica died in July 2011.

Grab a copy of Back to the Slaughterhouse here (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)

• Ronald Searle’s is on permanent loan to the German Museum of Caricature and Drawing from the Foundation of Lower Saxony, Museum Wilhelm Busch | Visit the German Museum of Caricature and Drawing online at: – the Museum’s web pages now offer a VR tour of its galleries

With thanks to Guy Lawley

Categories: British Comics - Collections, Comics, Features, Reviews

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