Book Review: Looking at London and Paris Sketchbook, by Ronald Searle and Kaye Webb

Looking at London and Paris Sketchbook

Looking at London and Paris Sketchbook

On 30th December last year, Ronald Searle, one of my favourite authors and illustrators, passed away at the age of 91. Many of the tributes to Searle mentioned his most famous works, the St Trinian’s and Molesworth series of books. Although both of these series are excellent, I’d like to highlight another couple of books that Searle, and his then-wife Kaye Webb, wrote and illustrated in the 1950s. They are called Paris Sketchbook and Looking at London.

Looking at London is a collection of portraits of ordinary, everyday London characters: lamplighters, railway-workers, bargees, the controllers of Trafalgar Square’s fountains, the keepers of the Kensington silver vaults, and lonely, downtrodden itinerant tradesman, such as John Weston, a 65-year-old ex-cabin-boy turned jobbing gardener. The portraits of these forgotten characters are engaging and charming. To quote from the foreword written by R. J. Cruikshank, “the warm-hearted style of Kaye Webb’s writing and the tender sympathy of Searle’s drawings are beautifully matched. London can be a lonely place, and this book takes the trouble to find out a little more about the faces that pass by every day”.

Paris Sketchbook is a similar work, with Searle and Webb turning their gaze towards the French capital. The subjects of this book are less personal than Looking at London. Instead, Paris Sketchbook is a journal of a husband and wife who, loving Paris, devoted a holiday  to recording some of the people and places they most wanted to remember.

Both books are enchanting snapshots of 1950s life in London and Paris. To the best of my knowledge, neither have been reprinted, but they are sometimes to be found second-hand on Amazon or in second-hand bookshops for about £20. If you are a fan of vintage Searle, and want to go beyond the legacy of St Trinian’s, the investment is well worth it.

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3 Comments to “Book Review: Looking at London and Paris Sketchbook, by Ronald Searle and Kaye Webb”

  1. Hi there, I am the widow in Australia of the famous ESP expert Sydney Piddington (Russell Braddons first book – The Piddingtons), Sydney Piddington was a close friend and in Changi POW Camp with Russell Braddon and Ronald Searle.

    I am the proud owner of the Original sketch on page 19 of Paris Sketchbook together with signed copies of this 1950 book.

    Delighted to read the above. I am currently looking at putting this original together with rare Searle sketches done in Changi on the Open Market in London where they will be appreciated in the future,. Another rare original Changi sketch was reproduced in ‘The Piddingtons’. Appreciate any thoughts or guidance,. Best wishes. Robyn Piddington – manderleys@bigpond.com.au

    • Hi Robyn
      Thanks for your comment, it was very interesting to hear about your sketches and original drawings. Good luck with selling them. Bob

  2. Hi Bob, Many thanks for your comment. Will keep in touch. Paris Sketchbook was certainly a very early, interesting book of Ronald Searle with his then wife Kaye Webb. Best wishes. Robyn Piddington.

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