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Encyclopedia Sabrina (Norma Ann Sykes)

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Sabrina's Life 1936-1954

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19 May 1936 - 9:45a.m. Norma Ann Sykes was born to Annie (or Anne or Ann, née Haslam, born 24 March 1908, died 13 May 1996 in Los Angeles) and Walter Sykes in the maternity wing of Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport, Cheshire, England. Annie and Walter were married in Stockport in 1931. She weighed 8 pounds (about 4kg).

Sabrina
Norma's birth certificate - thanks to David J.
Click it to read about the birthday investigation.

A few months later she won £5 in a "beautiful baby" contest in Blackpool. (Source)

She lived at 25 Buckingham Street, Heaviley, Stockport for about 13 years.

 aerial view of Sabrina's childhood 
home
Aerial view of Sabby's childhood home

Sabrina's first home
Street view of 25 Buckingham St (first house on right)

She attended St George's School, 0.77 km away on Buxton Rd at the corner of Mile End Lane. Find out about the bells at St George's Church.

Hear the tenor bell of St George's Church (mp3, 9K).

[Hmmm. Should I be getting worried that my research may be getting a little too fastidious? Nahhh!]

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July 1937 - Norma has her first known photo bunny shoot.

Norma Ann Sykes (Sabrina) at 14 months
Norma Ann Sykes (destined to be Sabrina) at 14 months

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A temporary interruption to the Sabrina story. While many people ran around with guns, Sabrina had the wisdom to turn 3, 4, 5 ,6, 7, 8 and 9.

Sabrina herself confirmed that she was a swimming champion and planned to swim the English Channel. She was in training in Stockport at the age of nine - at which age she could beat girls aged 15. She swam a mile a day at the YWCA at nine years of age. Her secret to swimming was a "special way of turning" and a lengthy underwater swim after the starting dive.

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July 1945 - Norma (yet-to-be-Sabrina) Sykes, at the tender age of ten, has her class photo taken at Cale Green (Middle) School in Stockport, Cheshire. Sent in by classmate Peter (front row, third from right), Sabrina stands in the back row, fourth from the left. The teacher (at left) is Mr Fletcher, and at the far right is the principal, Mr Urmston. Thanks, Peter: this is great Sabrinastuff!

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And young 1945 Norma Sykes (left) ... and approx 1957 (right)
Kiddies: can you spot two differences between these pictures?
Gosh! What clever fellows you are!
Yes - there are no hair ribbons, and the dress is a different shade of grey!

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The schools Sabrina attended seem to be:

Tyldesley Road School, Tyldesley, Wigan, Lancashire
Cale Green School, Stockport, Cheshire
St. George's School, Buxton, Stockport, Cheshire
Tyldesley High School, Tyldesley, Wigan, Lancashire
Claremont Girls School, Blackpool, Lancashire

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About 1947

Sabrina moves with her family to Blackpool.

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19 May 1948 - turns 12

The "Box of Delights" book notes that she was "the junior breast stroke champion of Manchester" at the age of 12. (I'll wait a minute for you all to stop sniggering and return to your desks.) Thanks to Paul Walsh for finding this vital snippet.

Mrs Beryl Ellis (email), who walked baby Sabrina in her pram, also says she was a very good swimmer and won lots of medals for the school.

Sabrina
See More Sabrina Swimming Snaps

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Norma's mother, Annie (neé Haslam) was a seamstress and had bright ginger hair. Her father, Walter Sykes, worked in Mechanical Engineering (he was not a coal miner) and was a natural blonde and had curly hair. Norma Ann was a natural blonde (though she often wore blonde wigs too.)

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Aged 11, Norma Ann contracted polio for four years, and was hospitalised for two years. A leg operation nearly proved serious enough to require amputation, and left her right ankle scarred.

Doctors feared she would be crippled for life, but prescribed a rugged series of exercises to develop her muscles. Each day, she spent hours swimming in a heated pool and performing bodybuilding feats. Her remarkable chest expansion is a direct result of these workouts. From a 97-pound weakling, she became an anatomical wonder. Besides her overdeveloped pectoral muscles, she also built powerful arms and legs. When she finally left the hospital, she was as strong as she was healthy. She had lost touch with most of her schoolmates during her long illness and she didn't want to return to school with younger classmates, so she set out for London to show off her new physique. [Lowdown 1963]

The daughter of one of Norma's schoolfriends reported that Norma didn't have many friends while at school. The girls were jealous, and the boys would follow her around, "you know, boys being boys."

In later years Norma often wore unfashionably long skirts, because she was self-conscious about her scarred leg. She was careful in later photo sessions to conceal the scars from the camera (but one shot seems to show the scars)

Norma Ann and her family moved from Stockport in about 1947, where she said in her interview that she attended Tyldesley Road School in Blackpool, and then Tyldesley High School until 1952 when she left school at the age of 15.

Her mother ran a private hotel off Central Drive, Blackpool.

According to another source [Leslie] who says he knew Sabrina, her mother and father were in Beeston, Leeds, Yorkshire before leaving Leeds to open a boarding house in Blackpool located by the gas works opposite Central pier.

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About 1951

Aged 15, Sabrina enters a local charm contest.

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19 May 1952- Turns 16.

Sabrina nude card

Aged 16, Norma poses nude.
Read the whole gory nudie tale.

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1953

English lawyer's clerk Sydney Aylett wrote in his 1978 autobiography "Under the wigs" about his experiences with Miss Norma Ann Sykes as she broke into celebrity.

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19 May 1953- Turns 17

At the age of 16 Norma went to London. JavaJim reports she went with David Whitfield the singer of Carra Mia Mine, but Sabrina denies it. She worked as a waitress in a seamy section of London.

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Sabby and David Whitfield, 5 Nov 56

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Between meals, she was kept busy serving slaps and roundhouse rights to the spivs, toffs and Teddy boys who kept trying to find out if her measurements were real. When she tired of slinging punches as well as hash, she got a job as a housemaid.

She walked into the Labor Exchange, asked for a job as a maid. The stunned clerk asked, "MMMilkmaid?" When his gaze finally climbed to her face, Sabrina said, "No. Housemaid." [Picture Digest 1956. Also reported in Uncensored 1958]

As a housemaid she encountered the same old pinches and pats, though in a more genteel way. When her employer tried a little 'slap and tickle', she floored him with a resounding slap. Out of work again during these tough times, one day she was scanning the help wanted ads when she noticed a call for models, no experience needed.

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The place was a tiny studio, where the sixteen year old Norma posed naked, but it bothered her, so she never went back. (Read about the photographer, Russell Gay)

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Read up on the nudie facts

Sabrina told me in one of our interviews that the main incentive to do the nude photoshoot was to feed Shane, her German Shepherd while she herself lived on cans of tomato soup.

Sabrina and dog Shane

VIP access

[Sabrina and Shane]

It turns out that the photos she made actually started her in show business. Alex Sterling, the noted British glamour photographer happened to see the pictures and he summoned her to his studio. The resultant work was viewed in London's picture magazines and the public took notice.

After being rejected by leading photographers for being "too voluptuous" she diets and reveals her wasp-like waist. She gets cheesecake work in such men's magazines as "Spick" and "Span".

Nigel reports that "in the early days of her time in London she tried to get taken on as a Harrison Marks model and .... they turned her down. Harrison Marks went on to be the most famous photographer of the nude female form in the country (in the world?) but friends and colleagues in the business would forever remind him of the one who got away. The answer I believe was that when she was very young and raw she just wasn't that great to look at. I think she must have developed quite quickly in London, been taught how to dress, put on weight as she ate better and generally filled out between the ages of 16 and 18"

There was a fight amongst agents to get to Sabrina first. Offers poured in asking to represent her. She almost quit when nearly everyone she talked to promised to make her a star, and wanted her to drop up to their cosy flats, have a drink and talk it over.

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Sabrina picked Bill Watts as her agent. He signed her to a five year contract. The contract ended around 17 January 1956, with apparent mutual dissatisfaction. She continues cheesecake modelling and appears on several prominent magazines' front covers. She never posed nude again because, as she said in the interview, she didn't need to.

Sabrina

The earliest ever professional shot of of our Sabby.
Sabrina, who sent it to me, is particularly fond of this photo.
See pictures of Young Sabrina

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At some time around here, Sabrina did a photoshoot, possibly for The Weekend Mail £1000 Cover Girl Contest. These photos were discovered and sent in by Sir Colin, VIP. We know very similar shots were used in Span magazine, Feb 1955.

Young Sabrina

VIP access

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April 1954: 'Blighty' 10 April 1954 - pre-Sabrina days.

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Bullet About this time TV producer Bill Ward was looking for a girl for the Beauty Spot feature in Arthur Askey's TV series Before Your Very Eyes, and when Sabrina's photograph was sent in by her agent, along with 23 others, he decided his search was over. The rest is history. Norma became Sabrina.
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19 May 1954 - turns 18

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