"Cheerful Mrs Mole pottered happily around her idyllic home, stitching patchwork, making cakes, stirring pots, arranging flowers, at an absolutely gruesome time in the lives of the cartoonist Ronald Searle and his wife, Monica.The complete collection of Mrs Mole drawings, created by Searle and intended as private, bittersweet jokes never meant for publication, will go on display at the Cartoon Museum in London this week.
In 1969, Monica was diagnosed with breast cancer and given only a few months to live. She was offered a course of what in those days was seen as an experimental form of chemotherapy. Searle, regarded by his peers as the greatest living cartoonist, recalls his reaction: "I had only my talent for drawing ... so I drew."
He gave her the Mrs Mole drawings as she lay in her hospital bed in Paris, one for each of her treatments, showing Monica's alter ego cheerful and busy in a setting heavily based on their own home in a village in Provence.
The drawings were full of details from their domestic life: her grandmother also pottered about carrying a basket of keys, and in the renovation of their own house they had recently discovered a bundle of huge, ancient keys. Monica recalled: "I would lie in bed, living the life he created in the pictures."
She was pronounced clear of the cancer in 1975, and today they still live in Mrs Mole's beautiful house.
Searle, whose first published drawings recall the three and a half years he survived in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, and who went on to create the hellish schoolgirls from St Trinians and the immortal Nigel Molesworth, has been awarded a CBE in Britain and the Legion d'Honneur in his adopted home in France. He is a trustee of the Cartoon Museum, which mounted a retrospective last year to mark his 90th birthday.
The museum is working with breast cancer charities on the exhibition, which runs until 20 March."
I really want to get to see this. Ronald Searle is most probably Britain's finest cartoonist and illustrators and has had so much influence over his career. Not least on me - my dad owned one of his book of cartoons "Back to the Slaughterhouse" and it was one of my favourite reads as a child. Beautifully twisted and the ideal thing to warp a young child for life in the best possible way.