Great Britain is in the process of building a high speed rail network. It should cut journey times for the great hard-working British public in half. This is a huge capital project and will take many years, and one of the main expenses of the project, apart from the vast quantities of materials, is human toil. And there is the problem. Todays Britain is full of feckless, softheaded, workshy fops who dream of nothing more than to be successful commercial artists who draw cute dogs and open webshops of their twee little ironic teatowels. It wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time British illustration had a backbone. It had bite, class and pathos. No illustrator personified those qualities more than Ronald Searle. In fact Searle is arguably the greatest British illustrator of the 20th century. His illustration in such books as the ‘St. Trinians’ and ‘Molesworth’ series written by Geoffrey Willans is beyond comparison. A sharp satirist and man of great humour, Ronald Searle’s dark wit was honed as he was enslaved on the horrific Siam-Burma Railway as a Japanese prisoner of war in WWII.
He barely survived this ordeal – and many of his friends were not so lucky. He used his drawing skills to help him survive in the P.O.W. camp, trading his drawings for cigarettes and food with his captors.
Instead of educating illustrators in art college and leaving them with huge debts, why not instead put them to work on the HS2 high-speed railway? They could be clapped in chains, given a pencil stub and toilet paper to draw on as they dig embankments with a teaspoon and eat instant noodles from a hubcap. And at the end we’d have a high-speed railway that will make the French seethe with jealousy, plus a crack team of satirical illustrators to make Britain proud again.