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The St Trinian's Story by Kaye Webb

The St Trinian's Story

by Kaye Webb, Ronald Searle (Illustrator)

Other authors: Malcolm Arnold (Contributor), Bertolt Brecht (Contributor), Johnny Dankworth (Contributor), C. Day Lewis (Contributor), Michael Flanders (Contributor)7 more, Sidney Gilliat (Contributor), Robert Graves (Contributor), Siriol Hugh JONES (Contributor), James Laver (Contributor), G. W. Stonier (Contributor), Donald Swann (Contributor), D. B. Wyndham Lewis (Contributor)

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All-singing, all-dancing tribute to Ronald Searle's celebrated girls' school, one of the more surprising British cultural phenomena of the forties and fifties. Compiled by Kaye Webb, the first editor to publish Searle's cartoons and his wife at the time this book was published, it features contributions from a galaxy of fifties names: everyone from Robert Graves and C. Day Lewis to Johnny Dankworth and Flanders & Swann (not to mention the features editor of Vogue). And of course dozens of hilarious — and frequently macabre — drawings of misshapen girls in straw hats, gymslips and black stockings.

Some of the contributors ask themselves why the notion of savage middle-class schoolgirls wielding hockey sticks, whisky bottles and Bren guns had such an appeal. Probably a worthwhile question, as half a century on there's something that still makes otherwise respectable British people drag up in St Trinian's costumes for stag nights and hen parties. It's obviously got something to do with sex and innocence, but it's not very obvious what.

The girls in Searle's pictures are interested in every other vice, and in breaking every other taboo, but they are ostentatiously hors concours where sex is concerned. They are ridiculously short or tall, fat or skinny, their hair and clothes are outrageously dishevelled, and they just don't care. They are sturdy British antidotes to the Françoise Sagans and Brigitte Bardots that young women of the time aspired to be. I suppose the idea might be that a young girl with an offensive weapon is somehow less threatening to the average male than the same young girl presented as a potential mate. Where's Freud when you need him?

It's striking when you look at the actual cartoons how violent they are. Webb points out that Searle's view of the world was obviously influenced by the four years he spent as a prisoner of the Japanese in Singapore, and that certainly seems to make sense when you see the amount of death and destruction there is in his drawings. There's one where we see two teachers stepping out into a yard littered with the stabbed, mutilated and dismembered bodies of their pupils: one teacher observes breezily to the other "Looks as though the cleaners have been getting sloppy again." When the St Trinian's motif is picked up in other media, or when we see Searle's cartoons reproduced, it's never this aspect that comes to the fore. The stress quietly, but significantly, shifts from violence to sex. In the film versions, the violence is reduced to harmless slapstick, but when we see girls in ill-fitting school uniforms, it's because the girls are actually adults and the uniforms are tailored to maximise sexual provocation: closer to the ethos of "schoolgirl" porn than to Searle's grotesquery. ( )
  thorold | Aug 5, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kaye Webbprimary authorall editionscalculated
Searle, RonaldIllustratormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Arnold, MalcolmContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brecht, BertoltContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dankworth, JohnnyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Day Lewis, C.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Flanders, MichaelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gilliat, SidneyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Graves, RobertContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
JONES, Siriol HughContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Laver, JamesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stonier, G. W.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Swann, DonaldContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wyndham Lewis, D. B.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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This book is dedicated to Kate Searle in the fond hope that one day she will forgive her father for all this.
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This work is a compilation of Ronald Searle's St. Trinians cartoons together with contributions from all sorts of eminent literary and musical folk about the awful girls. Kaye Webb, Searle's wife at the time of publication, deserves the primary author position: she compiled and edited the book as well as writing the introduction. A good selection of Searles cartoon's are there, but he did none of the writing. The book was first published by Perpetua in 1959 and later by Penguin Books in 1961.

The story of Searle's abandonment of Webb and their teenage children is well known - it happened around the time of the Penguin issue.
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