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Ronald Searle, the Mermaid and the Schoolgirl

So Ronald Searle is no more.  Described by Harry Mount today as ‘Britain’s greatest graphic artist’, Searle is summed up by Gerald Scarfe as reported by  The Press Association:

 ‘Cartoonist Gerald Scarfe paid tribute to Searle, whom he described as his “hero”. He said: “He was clever and he was funny and he could draw. A lot of cartoonists come up with an idea first but Ronald could really draw. He was an extraordinary man.”

The wikipedia entry is here and the best, because most personal, tribute is here.


Reader, I met him. He had been one of the active circle around the actor-manager Bernard Miles and his wife, Josephine Wilson, when they first opened the Mermaid Theatre in their St John’s Wood garden in 1951. My grandmother happened to live in the same street and was happily roped in as a general dogsbody. Ronald Searle illustrated many of the programmes, although not this one by C Walter Hodges, which I found amongst my grandmother’s possessions when she died.


When the new Mermaid Theatre opened at Blackfriars in 1959, my grandmother was invited to a pre-opening lunch of perhaps a dozen people, including Bernard Miles, Josephine Wilson and Ronald Searle. It must have been the Easter school holidays. I was ten years old, my parents were living in India, so I was shuffled around relations. Happening to be with my grandmother, I was brought along for the ride.


It was like no social gathering I had ever been to. Their conversations were reminiscences of people, places and events they knew and I didn’t. I think Ronald Searle must have felt sorry for me so that, when my grandmother egged me on to ask for his autograph (said autograph book having been specially bought for the occasion) he drew ‘Laura the Mermaid’ as you see above.


It’s a competitive world – unasked, Bernard Miles took the book and began to draw. ‘To prove Ronald Searle isn’t the only one’!



I must admit that, at the time, I thought Bernard Miles’s drawing much more flattering and therefore, of course, a much better likeness. It is only as I have got older that I now truly appreciate the Ronald Searle version.

And although we all know the top half of the drawing, the classic St Trinian’s schoolgirl, I think I can claim to be the only St Trinian’s girl who was also a Mermaid.

Sadly, the Mermaid did not survive as a theatre beyond the deaths of Bernard Miles and his wife. However, the building is now used by

 ChristChurch London, a church committed to making London a great place to live. We love this city and are working for its spiritual, social and cultural renewal. We meet every Sunday at the Mermaid Theatre at 11.00 and 16.00.

I think Sir Bernard would have been greatly pleased by this evidence of new life: his original intention had been to work for the social and cultural renewal of the area.  Let us hope the phoenix rises from its ashes.





The Bloghorn, the rather good title of the blog of the professional cartoonists organisation, included a reference to this little story in its post of today.

20 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

I can’t claim the sort of connection that you have with the theatre and Bernard Miles, but I can claim a connection indirectly.

When I left school, I went to work for the Post Office at King Edward Building,as a Telegram Boy. Some of that time was spent at the Telegraph Office in Threadneadle Street and other at the old Post Office communications HQ at Fleet Building in Faringdon Street, from where I occasionally would deliver a Telegram to the Stage Door of the Mermaid Theatre.

I often pass the site of the Old Theatre these days. There is a new Mermaid Conference and Event Centre, built into the development over Queen Victoria Street.

Shared memories are the best.

Lay Anglicana said...

Shared memories are indeed the best! I was rather shocked to see its recent history when I looked up the Wikipedia entry, but it seems it can’t quite be ruled out yet. Bernard Miles was not a churchgoer, as far as I know, but he would have been thrilled to know that someone is still trying to bring life into the area.

03 January 2012 21:54
03 January 2012 21:49
Grandmère Mimi said...

Laura, what treasures! Lucky you. Thank you so much for your wonderful story.

I remember Searle’s covers and cartoons in the New Yorker starting back in the 1950s.

Lay Anglicana said...

Such a relief to get away from the Covenant for a moment!
There is a lovely summary in today’s New Yorker called:


04 January 2012 06:42
03 January 2012 23:36
john scott said...

I love it! Mermaid has happy theatre memories for me in the late 70s especially with the premiere of what remains one of my favourite theatrical productions ‘Whose life is It Anyway'(c1978/79) with Tom Conti. I was not long in London and still exploring the Big Smoke. Of all the City Churches at the time it was tiny St Ethelburga the Virgin (before it was bombed by IRA, now rebuilt) which was my favourite and where I first heard the call to ministry in a rather mystical way. Literally a call, I had been praying for some sign (in those days I was always asking God for signs) that going forward for ministry was the right thing for me. Suddenly in that church during a lunchtime eucharist I clearly ‘heard’ the one word call ‘John’… nothing more just ‘John’ but wow did that afternoon change my life. Thanks for sparking the memory Laura.

Lay Anglicana said...

And we are blessed by your calling, John!

04 January 2012 06:46
04 January 2012 05:34
Anne Peat said...

What a lovely souvenir, of a great man,Laura.

I will wait for you to appear on the Antiques Roadshow with these drawings!

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, Anne. I suspect they are among those Antiques Roadshow items that are of greater value to the owner than anyone else, even if they have ended up in the downstairs loo!

04 January 2012 10:03
04 January 2012 09:29
UKViewer said...

Just for a moment, I thought that Ann was suggesting that Laura should appear on the Antiques Road show as an ‘ANTIQUE’?

Obviously I need to patronise specsavers.

Lay Anglicana said...

Now, now, young man!

Anne Peat said...

Really UKViewer, would I be so rude?

Lay Anglicana said...

Sorry, Anne, I am afraid you are an innocent bystander caught in a long-standing Mutt and Jeff knockabout between me and UKViewer! 😉 He has been the most loyal supporter since the beginning of this website – the forum and the blog – and we are joint administrators of the Facebook Lay Anglicana page. I think he just saw an opportunity for a swipe and had forgotten you might be rather taken aback. Something like Inspector Clouseau and Cato (not sure which is which!)

04 January 2012 23:03
04 January 2012 22:06
04 January 2012 20:51
UKViewer said...

Anne, I apologise. I was making fun of my own eyesight, which being quite poor and when I view through varifocals, can give me an instant mis-read of something.

As it’s normally out of context and funny, I can’t resist the opportunity to post on it.

I knew that Laura wouldn’t take offence, but I must admit, I should have considered you as well.

My heartfelt apologies.

And having met Laura in the ‘flesh’ so to speak, I can assure that she is the most organized and articulate person you could hope to know or to meet. I suffer similar things with keys, spectacles and lots of other things. Perhaps it’s catching, but I suspect that as I’m slightly more mature than Laura, it might just be my extreme maturity that’s the problem. 🙁

Anne Peat said...

I’m really not at all offended! I know it’s all a bit of fun. :-)) I should have inserted a smiley in my ‘protest’ so you knew I was taking your comments seriously.

Anne Peat said...

Sorry – should have read ‘so you knew I wasn’t taking your comments seriously! 🙂

ken said...

is this the anne who was a quiet gardener and studying all things celtic?
ken craig

31 March 2014 04:22
05 January 2012 17:14
05 January 2012 17:13
05 January 2012 17:03
UKViewer said...


I was replying tongue in cheek as well. I’m always joshing with Laura, but she normally comes off best. 🙂

05 January 2012 19:08
04 January 2012 20:40
ramtopsrac said...

Laura, what wonderful drawings and lovely memories.

I am (now) eternally glad that my mother used to drag me to strange occasions, to meet ‘different’ people, and to actually make the effort to talk to them in some way. Such events left me with two valuable things
1) a fund of interesting stories that I can use to relate to different people and situations in the most surprising circumstances
2) the ability to talk to all sorts of people, from many and varied walks of life, without being overly worried about it!

Thanks for sharing – I might share some of mine at some point, but sadly as in this case it may well be deaths that spark the memories.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for this – you are very perceptive in talking about death being the occasion for these memories to come flooding back. And yes, I can remember 1959 as if it were yesterday (including the dress I wore!) but am getting scattier by the day about keys, spectacles etc! It is not just my memories of Ronald Searle and the Bernard Mileses. My grandmother died at the age of 99, and our relationship deteriorated towards the end of her life. We had been close earlier, and it is important for me to remember days like this in her company.

04 January 2012 22:46
04 January 2012 21:25
gina valley said...

Delightful post. I’d not heard of him before. I’ll be looking his work up.
Thank you for sharing.

25 April 2012 03:09

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