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Encyclopedia Sabrina (Norma Ann Sykes)

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Sometimes I think I haven't a real friend in the world.

TV Mirror, October 5, 1957

Godfrey Winn's finest series The Hearts of the Stars.
This week SABRINA confesses to him.

"SOMETIMES I think I haven't a real friend in the world."

Sabrina coverThe remark startled me so much that it sent a shiver down my spine. Especially as it was spoken without any trace of bitterness, but instead with childlike candour by the girl in the bright yellow, calf-length jeans, and a man's black and yellow tartan-patterned shirt, who was curled up on the rug in front of the fireplace.

Before I could answer, I watched her instinctively put out one hand and stroke the back of her toy tiger-the first thing I had noticed when I entered the sitting room, with its gold leaf wallpaper, of Sabrina's flat, close to Hyde Park, on the Bayswater Road side.


Sabrina's toy tiger

Sabrina

From another source, Sabrina's toy tiger


A tiger on the hearth ... a tiger to keep the wolves at bay I had suggested. Oh, yes, there were plenty of those, and plenty, too, of the kind of hangers-on who are always to be found outside the stage-door, or hovering in the passage, trying to wheedle their way into the dressing-room of the latest dazzling blonde to get her name in lights in the West End.

As Sabrina has done--and all credit to her-in the short space of two years in Show Business. I had been to see her in her first West End show a few nights before, Pleasures of Paris at the Prince of Wales Theatre. Bernard Delfont has spared no cost in its presentation, while Dickie Henderson is a real find among comedians. The decor throughout was dazzling and the spectacles superb. There was also Sabrina.

Too much publicity

Now I had read and heard as much about this new phenomenon in the TV world as you probably have. Secretly I was sick of her over-publicised proportions. What was she going to do for my entertainment? Sing and dance? Display her bust in a series of scanty dresses and voluptuous poses?

Sabrina with her portraitI was, perhaps, the most critical member of the audience that night. Nor, I must admit, was I impressed with her first appearance, or the songand-dance routine that followed. I only began to feel that she had some latent talent in the sketches in which she took part later in the show. Especially the one about her "two beauties."

Her timing of her lines in this sketch was excellent. She pointed her dialogue quite as well as Dickie Henderson, who played opposite her. Indeed, I was genuinely impressed by the way she stood up to his far greater experience.

On the other hand, I would have been shocked if I hadn't become, by this time, extremely bored by the endless innuendoes and references to the leading lady's measurements. In the end, it turned out that the "two beauties" referred to so constantly were, in fact, two small pet poodles, and the curtain came down with them hugged to Sabrina's bosom.

"I don't mind"

But before that every ounce of humour if that is the right word had been extracted from the misunderstanding, and I could not help feeling extremely sorry for the central figure who was the target of all these endless double entendres.

Indeed, one of the first questions I asked her, when she invited me to have a cup of tea with her, in the privacy of her flat. was connected with my lasting impression of the show. "Don't you mind," I began, "all those references to your er ...? .,

I did not have to finish the sentence. "I don't mind them in the sketches," she replied, with the brisk honesty which is so much part of her persona1ity, "because I have a chance then to act back, to score points myself. But I hate them before I come on the first time, or when I am not on the stage myself. I have protested several times about it, but nothing happens.

Sabrina interviewed in bedI suppose it's regarded as my gimmick, and there you are."
"Your reason for being there at all?" I suggested, with equal frankness. Yet even as I made that comment, I was making a surprising, a contradictory discovery. In private life, relaxed and off guard as she was with me, this fair girl of twenty with the honey skin, who was born Norma Sykes in Manchester, is a great deal more attractive in every way than the television novelty, the dumb blonde, who was blown up overnight on the screen into fame and fortune.

To begin with, dressed in the casuals she was wearing the day I visited her at home, apart from the extreme narrowness of her waist, one noticed nothing in the least unusual about her appearance. The loose, masculine-cut shirt was deliberately discreet. It revealed nothing, and that was somehow a relief, a change.

Her fine silky hair, done up in a Grecian knot, was infinitely more becoming than when she wears it, like any other showgirl, fluffed out over her shoulders. She has very beautiful eyes, a nose that is full of character, and a smile that is warm with the warmth of the north, and utterly different from the silly artificial pictures that appeared in the early days, before she became what she is today, a national figure.

Yet strangely enough she had never planned a career in Show Business at all!
"You mean, it was all an accident? You weren't just one more stage-struck girl from the provinces, gate-crashing an audition and getting the job?"
My companion, who by this time was in her scarlet-painted kitchen making the tea, shook her head with some emphasis.

When she first came to London at the age of seventeen, she told me, she lived in a very different flat, in a much less classy neighbourhood, earning her board and lodging by making necklaces and artificial jewellery. She was waiting, not for a place in the chorus, but for a bed in a certain hospital, so that she could have yet another operation on the leg that had been most affected when at the age of twelve, in Blackpool, she had been stricken down with polio.

Sabrina interviewedLooking back on that time now, her memories are of lying in bed with a cage over her leg, wondering if she would ever walk again, ever look like other girls. She must have had great courage and grit to survive the ordeal. She shows that "grit and courage today in surviving all the sneers and cracks that are levelled at her "vital statistics."
If only her detractors could have seen the scars on her leg which she showed me, they might feel differently.

To try and earn a little more money to pay for expensive post-hospital treatment, she posed for the cover of a magazine. This was seen by a theatrical agent, and when Arthur Askey's producer rang up for a blonde to act as a dumb foil for Big-Hearted, Norma was sent in a batch of a dozen.

Supposing she had not been the one picked out, because she looked just right? Would her career have ever blossomed at all? The girl who became Sabrina is quite certain herself it wouldn't. As it was, Norma Sykes was only engaged for one show. It was a speculation, a desperate gag to find something new to entertain the viewers. Would it work? Would the gimmick produce dividends?

The rest of the story is already television history. As soon as the programme was over, the telephone began to ring and went on ringing. Who was the dumb blonde? Who was Sabrina?

Sabrina is no longer dumb. She is not only in the big money today, she is saving money. Soon she is moving into an impressively large house she has bought in St. John's Wood, where she is planning to have two police dogs living in the garden room to protect her, instead of her toy tiger, and at the same time, to let off the top flat for ten guineas a week. Northerners are famous for their shrewdness. Sabrina is no exception.

"When your present engagement ends," I asked, "do you plan to return to television in your own series?"

"Not unless they will let me act. I really mean that, I feel I can act comedy now. I did a spot in a film the other day, and the producer swears it is a success. I hope to do more films in the future, and play real parts. I feel my best chance of being accepted as a real person lies in films." Having spent two hours with her, I understand exactly what she meant. She was a real person to me now. But how could she convince the rest of the world? Or even the young men who lunched her and supped her, because it pleased their own ego to be seen in public places with Sabrina?

We talked about that with the same complete honesty that we had talked about her career. No, she had never been really in love yet. Oh, yes, she had a current boy friend, but both of them knew it was simply a passing phase. Both of them, too, were in Show Business, and Sunday evening was their only free night for dates.

"Evening is spoilt"

"The trouble is," Sabrina admitted, "that I like going out to a movie in slacks. It's such a relief after all those special creations I have to wear in the show. But he doesn't like it, he wants me to dress up as a compliment to him, but as soon as I do everyone recognises us, and the evening is spoilt. At least it is for me."

I could see it happening, can't you? Her longing to look like any other girl for a change, anonymous in a crowd, sucking the kind of ice-cream she always sends for in the interval at the theatre.

"Haven't you any girl friends?" I asked. Someone she could confide in, someone who was always there at the other end of the phone. Sabrina shook her head. "Not a single one." I could understand that. It really wasn't her fault. At a time when other girls were making friends for life at school she was isolated in a hospital, a cripple, apart. Later, rocketed suddenly into the headlines, she had no one of her own age to share her experiences on equal terms. She felt, rightly or wrongly, that the other girls in the show were jealous of her.

My companion wasn't in the least sorry for herself; she was being completely straightforward. As when I suggested that it would all change when she did finally fall in love with someone whom she knew she wanted to marry so that he could be the father of her children.

"I should hate to have children," she said at once, with absolute finality. And when she said that, I realised it was the secret key really to her whole personality. She herself is still a child at heart, a child, too, far from home, a bit lost and forlorn, for all the gallant, hard-boiled front she adopts towards the world.

Found a friend

Sabrina washing upI have a curious instinct for seeing into the hearts of people, and what I saw behind the facade of Sabrina, I liked a great deal more than what you see across the footlights, or on your television screen. Moreover, I am sure about one thing.

If only she can develop a talent for living as well as she has already developed her talent for self-presentation, she need have no fear of becoming one more faded gimmick of Show Business.
My last glimpse was of her waving goodbye with a happy smile. I felt she was happy because for the first, time someone had talked to her seriously, and treated her as a human being. And in the course of our long and searching conversation, she had found a friend.

I mean that most sincerely, Sabrina. What's more, you can always come out in jeans with me. After all, Nancy Spain does!

Editorial: I just felt like THROTTLING the smarmy big-headed fool at the end of this interview. The only desire he had (that was greater than getting into Sabrina's pants) was inflating his own ego.

Page Created: January 26, 2003

Last Changed: Sunday, October 23, 2016 12:35 PM

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