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Under The Wigs
Kindly provided by Antoni in 2016. Antoni added:
"Sydney was the chief barristers' clerk for a prestigious set of chambers at Number 4, Paper Buildings, in the Temple, London, from 1929 until his retirement in 1973. Some of the barristers in those chambers were involved in Sabrina's numerous libel actions against various newspapers and magazines. She found suing such periodicals for libel very lucrative in the 1950s."
Read more of Sabrina in Court
I had become interested in photography, and it was this hobby that in 1953 was to give me a real involvement in the world of the theatre. I was experimenting in colour photography, which at that time was in its infancy. There was a little man off the Tottenham Court Road who did my developing and printing, and advised me generally on techniques.
One morning around eleven, I went to see him to collect some pictures. I was told by his assistant that he was out having coffee with a young lady but was expected back shortly, so would I wait. Within a matter of minutes he returned with this young lady. As he showed her into the room I rose, to find myself gazing into a mammoth bosom. Now my particular fetish had always been the forearm, but no man could but be mesmerised by these glorious mammary glands. Eventually I tore my eyes away and glanced up at their owner. I was surprised to see so young and innocent a face above such a fabulous property development.
‘Oh Sydney, I’m glad you’re here, it may be most fortuitous,’ said Harry, my photographic friend. ‘Now let me introduce you. This is Miss Norma Sykes, this is Mr Sydney Aylett.’ I stood back, put out my hand and made some formal noises. I was a bit concerned with Harry’s remark that it was fortuitous that I was there, for I wondered of what possible assistance a middle-aged barristers’ clerk could be to such a young lady.
‘Miss Sykes,’ he continued, ‘has come to London from Blackpool to try and find employment in the theatre, and knowing your keen interest in show business I thought perhaps you could give her the benefit of your advice.’ Without any hesitation I replied, ‘My advice to you, young lady, is to get on the next train and go back home.’
‘That’s just what I told her, but she’s very obstinate, and says she won’t,’ said Harry. Miss Sykes echoed his last words. ‘Well sit down there for a moment,’ he pointed to a chair, ‘while I take Mr Aylett through and show him his pictures.’ I followed him into his office.
‘What are you trying to get me into,’ I whispered, ‘and where on earth did you find her?’ ‘She came in here thinking I was a photographer, she wanted some pictures taken for agents. After I’d explained that I only did the developing and printing she started pouring her heart out to me about this stage business, so I took her out for a cup of coffee and tried to make her see sense and go back home. Then knowing you were coming round I brought her back here to meet you thinking you might be able to help in some way.’
‘Where is she staying?’ I asked.
‘If I tell her what a wicked place this is, she’ll probably want to stay. I’m certain I’ll do more harm than good,’ I said, trying to wriggle out of the situation.
Norma seemed pleased that I’d taken her over, and she babbled away as we walked to Lyons Corner House, the large restaurant on the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. I chose it because of its size. I didn’t fancy being caught in a tete a tete in some intimate Soho restaurant by any of my legal acquaintances. As we walked along I found I was only half listening to her chatter; I had become conscious of the attention Norma was attracting from passers-by. It seemed that every man’s head turned towards her and from the looks in their eyes, which ranged from admiration to downright lechery, it became apparent to me that she had something. It wasn’t just the bosom; she radiated a sort of sensual purity, which sounds like a contradiction in terms, but I think she gave a different kind of sensation to everyone who saw her. She was what I suppose is meant by the term sex symbol.
It was the same in the restaurant; she seemed to hypnotize, and I noticed there were several kicks under the table from ladies with male escorts. Eventually I was able to get her full story.
She had been born in Lancashire, and her mother and father now kept a boarding house in Blackpool. On and off she’d recently spent several months in hospitals with a leg infection, and a series of operations had left a scar which she said prevented her from using beauty contests as a means of getting into the theatre. Her illness had also affected her education; she had received very little schooling, indeed she was the classic example of ‘a dumb blonde’.
‘How do you propose keeping yourself while you look for work in the theatre?’ I asked.
It was a sort of blackmail. But I was no sugar daddy. Even if I’d been tempted, I’d seen too often in the courts what happened to those who trod that primrose path. But still her magnetism fascinated me, and the effect on others around gave me to think that perhaps I might be able to do something for her.
To be honest it wasn’t altruism. If she did succeed, it would bring me into closer contact with the world I loved, and there would be the glamorous kickback of having discovered a star. In a way it reflected my work at the Bar, though without the financial rewards, for I was determined that my motives would never be found to be other than the highest.
‘Do you think it possible for me to meet your parents? Could you persuade them to come to London? If they agree, there is a plan I could put into operation, but I’m doing nothing without their consent.’
Norma thought for a few seconds, ‘I’ll ring them tonight. I don’t know about Dad, he’s none too well, but I’m sure Mum will, anyway I’ll do my best to get her here.’
The following day I had a call from her saying that her mother had agreed to come to London, and could we meet somewhere the day after. I suggested the Regent Palace Hotel, since it was a place that anyone who didn’t know London could easily find.
I now decided I’d better explain to Do [his wife] what was happening. It wasn’t easy. It’s strange how disingenuous the most honourable motives can sound when you try putting them to your wife. Her first reaction didn’t help, ‘Sounds a peculiar kind of brief to me; what fee is marked on it?’ However, I hadn’t worked for barristers for nothing. I pulled out my oratorical stops, compared Norma to our own daughter and with the promise that I would introduce them should it be decided that Norma would stay on in London to try her luck, I think I succeeded in convincing Do that I had done the only thing possible under the circumstances.
The meeting with Mrs Sykes went well. She was a jolly woman, and seemed grateful for my interest in her daughter. I then explained my plan, though I had some difficulty in expressing myself delicately. I said that I had noticed that in America the big bosom had become big business; I mentioned the names of Jane Russell, Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe. Mrs Sykes took my point, albeit a little rustically. ‘Aye, I see what you mean,’ she broke in, ‘and our Norma’s got a couple of beauties, hasn’t she? I expect she has told you her measurements, she’s forty-one inches round the tits, and she’s got an eighteen-inch waist,’ she said proudly. I noticed Norma’s eyes flickering modestly. I recovered my equilibrium, and went on to say that while it might prove difficult at this stage to get theatre work, she could well break into the modelling world.
I told her that I knew an agent, Bill Watts, who specialised in models and also groomed young starlets, and that I could introduce Norma to him and to Noel Maine, a camera man for Baron the Court photographer. I explained that I had one or two other contacts we could try if those two failed. We agreed that if after a month Norma seemed to be getting nowhere, she would return home; and finally I explained that she would have to live in a more salubrious neighbourhood than the King’s Cross area.
As I’d promised I made the suggested introductions and to my delight Norma was most favourably received. Noel Maine found her photogenic, and said he was sure he’d be able to use her for fashion modelling. He wasn’t worried about the scar on her leg, his interests were on a higher plane. Bill Watts was as enthusiastic but was concerned about her name.
Inevitably there followed a short period of inactivity, and Norma became depressed; but Bill Watts had made me promise not to show her to anyone else until he had exhausted all his contacts. Then came the breakthrough. BBC Television was producing a new series with the comedian Arthur Askey, ‘Big Hearted Arthur,’ and they wanted a young, plentifully-endowed blonde for him to fence around.
Bill Watts was asked to send about a dozen for camera tests, and said he would include Sabrina if she wanted to compete. She did, and won by several inches. The extraordinary thing was that she hadn’t to speak a single word, she just had to stand there and react to the antics of the funny little man. Considerable play of course was made of her figure, but Norma was now fully accustomed to this and was quite unperturbed with Arthur Askey bobbing around her boobs. The great British public weren’t. They went mad over this silent siren, and the press responded accordingly. Picture Post, an illustrated magazine with a readership of millions, quickly had a picture of her on their cover, and offers began to pour in for photographic sessions and personal appearances, and with the offers came money. Sabrina had arrived. So had the bosom.
Bigger and better falsies were demanded and fashions changed. Norma also changed, and changed fast, though she still behaved towards me as she had when we first met. She regarded me as her business manager, protector from the men who now began to besiege her, and eventually as her legal adviser. I discovered that this seemingly naive girl was in fact as sharp as a needle. I mentioned to her that an article about her was possibly libellous. She was on to it with her claws. It was settled out of court, and she received a generous sum in damages. From that time on she scanned the papers, not for the nice things they said about her, but to explore the legal possibilities of the nasty things.
She had no belief in the saying that there’s no such thing as bad publicity; at one time she had eleven law suits on the go; of these seven reached the setting-down stage, and appeared in the case lists. Naturally they were handled by my barristers, so that although I received no direct money for the services I rendered her, I did collect in another way. I also found it ironic that I, who had devoted my life to placing men with the powers of oratory, should have been partly responsible for the success of someone who was always required to keep her mouth shut.
She travelled the world to display her charms. She was to have appeared in the Command Performance before the Queen in 1956, but to her great disappointment it was cancelled because of the Suez crisis. While she was in America, some humorist issued a challenge to Sabrina and Jayne Mansfield, to be measured on stage to prove whose bust was the greater. Sabrina accepted readily, but Miss Mansfield would have none of it, so yet another of the world’s great secrets has never been unfolded.
Although Sabrina was a regular visitor to Number 4 Paper Buildings, only once did she and Quintin confront each other. He mistook her for a temporary typist I had engaged. I hastily tried to put matters right by explaining who she was. It was obvious that she meant nothing in Quintin’s life, so for once fumbling for something to say, he asked her if she was married. ‘Not yet,’ replied Norma, ‘but I shall be in a few weeks time - to an American gynaecologist.’
My excursion into the theatre proved a pleasant diversion. It didn’t pass my colleagues unnoticed, and a certain amount of friendly banter rippled round the Temple and its precincts. One or two less kind people suggested that I would have made a better theatrical agent than a barristers’ clerk, but they were those who were casting envious eyes on our chambers. But it was to help me in my real work, too.
Up until the time I met Norma, when I was entertaining clients (and by clients I mean solicitors clerks and their like) I had confined myself to the more humble eating and drinking establishments. When meeting her friends I had opened the doors of the Ritz, the Savoy, the Dorchester; I had eaten in the better Soho restaurants, and I’d discovered that while they were a little more expensive than those I had used previously, for the comfort and entertainment they offered they were worth it, and that anyway they were now well within reach of my purse. It had been a new world to me, and it was most certainly a new one to my clients. They were impressed, particularly when I was able to point out some celebrity, and were more willing to consider fees on the highest levels. Tea at the Ritz I found was at that time almost the cheapest meal in London. Other people later recognised this, and the price had to rise to protect the hotel from invasion. So all-in-all my encounter with Sabrina proved an amusing and not unrewarding experience.
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