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Posts Tagged "Sir Bernard Miles":

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.

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