The death on December 30 of Ronald Searle, Britain’s foremost “graphic satirist”—to use his own designation—came as a terrific shock to his countrymen, many of whom thought he’d been dead for ages. Searle, ninety-one, had lived in Provence since 1966, and in France since 1961. He was untroubled by the possibility that his native land had forgotten him. “One marvelous thing about having left England,” he said in 2005, is that Frenchmen and other foreigners have “never heard of St. Trinian’s,” that Pandaemonium of a girls’ boarding school given diabolical life in Searle’s cartoons. Searle, complaining about a British “tendency to pigeonhole you,” thought it nicer to be presumed dead than remembered for work done in the 1950s.

Some were probably shocked for the opposite reason: Wasn’t Searle death-proof? A story known only vaguely to his more...


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