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Encyclopedia Sabrina (Norma Ann Sykes)

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Sabrina in Books!

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Sabrina bulletFrom Sydney Aylett's autobio, "Under the wigs", 1978. He claims to have basically discovered Sabrina in 1953.

Sabrina bulletFrom Derryn Hinch's autobiography.

Sabrina bulletSabrina in Australia. An account of Sabrina's 1958-1959 Australian tour from an unpublished book

Sabrina bullet"Bombshells" - Glamour Girls of a Lifetime

Sabrina bulletArthur Askey's autobiography

Sabrina bulletBarry Crocker's autobiography

From: Live at the London Palladium: The World's Most Famous Theatre in the Words of Stars Who Have Played There by By Neil Sean (2014)


London Palladium. Tony told me that his one strong memory of the Palladium was the invitation to appear on Sunday Night at the London Palladium in 1958 for Val Parnell.

This was a great show, you know,’ he said, ‘I mean, the biggest event on TV in the week, so for sure I am going to say yes. But truthfully I was nervous, too, it was all totally live and even though it was a tough gig in that respect, I loved it.’

Tony also recalled that he appeared with another blonde bombshell that night by the name of Sabrina, who was of course Norma Sykes in real life. At the height of her fame, Norma was described as Marilyn Monroe, Diana Dors and Jayne Mansfield all rolled into one and she played this tag to the hilt. She was the main star guest on Arthur Askey’s show but was never given much to say as Askey felt that her accent, which was pure Lancashire, would not be understood by the great British viewing public.

Tony had other memories of meeting Norma. ‘She was very sweet and, yes, she had an amazing figure, but she wasn’t as dumb as they say. She knew what she was selling. She told me that she loved being a sex symbol and asked me what contacts I had in Hollywood, as she was keen to progress her acting career beyond just standing and looking great. That was another abiding memory from doing that show.’

SabrinaFrom: It Came From Outer Space Wearing an RAF Blazer!: A Fan's Biography of Sir Patrick Moore, by Martin Mobberley.

A junior BBC producer named Percy Lamb had worked with Frankie Howerd in films and suggested a new educational, but entertaining, series for the comedian where he explored space. The series would be entitled Frankie Looks Up. Each program would start with Howerd winking at the camera and quoting from Oscar Wilde: “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars!” Presumably interspersed with Howerd’s trade mark “Oooh no missus, Titter ye not!” But just to make doubly sure of the ratings figures there would be a co-presenter, namely the ‘blonde bombshell sex kitten’ Sabrina (born May 19th 1936) who was, in every way, Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield combined, and more!

Sabrina, born Norma Sykes, had the face of an angel combined with a jaw-dropping 42-17-36 figure. She frequently exploited her hourglass proportions with a plunging neckline. First introduced to TV by Arthur Askey when she was 18 she rarely said a word, she just posed, while the adult male viewers dribbled. When she was on TV, all 1950s men tuned to that channel! In Frankie Howerd’s proposed Frankie Looks Up show she would be called ‘Cuzit from Cassiopeia’ and wear a slinky silver space suit, no doubt with the front unzipped as far as 1950s TV would allow. Surely, the unknown Patrick could stand no chance whatsoever against that sort of competition?!

This was not all though. The singer Alma Cogan was also booked to appear in the show. Dressed in an alien costume with waggling antennae she was due to sing “I’m going steady with Eddy from Earth!” and “I’m M,M,M.M.MAD about Martian men!”. Surely it was time for Patrick to exit stage left. His career finished before it started? However, Paul Johnstone was a more senior producer to Percy Lamb and Paul’s background was in archaeology and science, not comedy; and, ultimately it was a science program that the BBC wanted. There were plenty of other outlets for Howerd and Sabrina, more suited to their talents. Lamb was not about to give up though and even after he learned of the Paul Johnstone/Patrick Moore venture he arranged a rehearsal in front of the acting BBC Director-General Sir Henry Rawlinson. However Sabrina’s charms failed to convince Sir Henry and even though he shared a meal with Alma Cogan and her lesser cleavage, after the show, it just had not worked. Frankie Howerd’s double entendre gags, including the old favourite “let’s have a good look at Uranus” just didn’t work in a program that was supposed to be educational. With the strict BBC standards of the day the Howerd/Sabrina double act looked more pornographic than scientific.

As 1957 started Sabrina starred as Virginia in Blue Murder at St Trinian’s, a non-speaking role in which she was only required to sit up in bed wearing a nightdress while reading a book, despite sharing equal billing with the main star Alastair Sim and appearing on posters up and down the land dressed in a skimpy schoolgirl uniform! Meanwhile, Patrick was poised to become a star of a different sort, wearing a blazer, not a skimpy schoolboy uniform!

SabrinaFrom: Rose Heilbron: Legal Pioneer of the 20th Century, by Hilary Heilbron

Rose was invited to the very first Women of the Year Luncheon held on 29 September 1955, along with other famous women of the time. It was the brainchild of the Marchioness of Lothian in aid of the Greater London Fund for the Blind. But the novelty of the first year’s invitation was eclipsed the second year, 1956, by the ‘Sabrina’ factor.

Sabrina, born Norma Sykes, was an internationally famous star of the time with a voluptuous hourglass figure who moved from being a ‘dumb blonde’, whose ample bosom became the butt of many jokes, to acting and appearing in shows. Rose was originally billed to speak alongside Sabrina and Rose’s friend, Dame Edith Evans. In the end neither Rose nor Sabrina spoke, the former, according to the Evening Express, because professional etiquette debarred a member of the legal profession from figuring in a programme which included a ‘spotlight personality like Sabrina’.

SabrinaFrom: Riding this Road: My Life - Making Music and Travelling This Wide Land with Slim Dusty by Slim's wife, Joy McKean.

In Sydney, during the first Royal Show we worked at in 1958, an English girl called Sabrina was the rage of the gossip columns and newspapers. Her claim to fame seemed to rest upon her ample bust, which she used to feature well up front whenever a photographer hove into view.

At this time Frank suggested to EMI that with the runaway success and high sales of the 'Pub' [With No Beer] they should acknowledge Slim’s success with, say, a Gold Record and the record company had indeed acted on the suggestion with enthusiasm. They manufactured and presented to Slim the first Gold Record ever made in Australia and still the only gold 78 rpm in existence in this country.

The ensuing publicity was a big challenge to Sabrina's campaign, so it is was inevitable, I suppose, that Frank and her publicity people would put their heads together. The PR ground into action and next thing Frank had teed up a photo session featuring Slim and Sabrina.

Well, Slim and Sabrina posed with the Gold Record, with Sabrina’s famous attributes blocking most of the view of the award; Slim was beaming but wondering what she was going to do next.


He reckoned he'd never seen anyone so smart with photos as that girl - she'd catch sight of a camera and it was in with the tummy and out with top. Slim found it a bit nervewracking, apparently, to put his arms around Sabrina to hold a beer glass prop, trying to dodge the famous bust that seemed to be everywhere. He was perspiring, but manfully stuck with it and got the photo session done.

(Found accidentally on 2 Jan 2015 in an actual real bookshop. Luckily, I thought of checking the index for references to Sabrina, and double-lucky I thought of taking a photo of the 2 relevant pages with my phone.)

SabrinaFrom Blue Bostock: Australia's First Bullfighter and Rodeo Clown, by Geoff Allen (pp 217-8)

Coral was a fine dressmaker. She used to make Chinese dresses, Chong Sans, and girls would come to the house and Coral would fit them. She learnt at Paula Stafford’s, a beachwear place in Surfers Paradise and that’s where she was working when I met her. Later she worked exclusively for Sabrina. Sabrina was one of the first “oomph” women to appear on the stage after the war. She was blonde and her large, shapely breasts were the feature of her act. She was brought out to Australia from England, where she was a star, to do what was called the “Tivoli” circuit, theatres that held variety acts. She was recommended to visit Paula Stafford’s shop and Coral measured her up and made her a bikini. After that she wouldn’t go to anyone else for those types of clothes, only to Coral, who got to know Sabrina pretty well.

(Found Found 1 Jan 2015, online.)

SabrinaFrom "Family Britain 1951-1957" by David Kynaston (page 608)

A working-class girl made good by this time was Blackpool’s 19-year-old Norma Sykes, better known as Sabrina. ‘What Sabrina has “got” is no mystery,’ declared Picture Post’s Robert Muller. ‘With her forty-inch bust and very blonde hair, she has become the Teddy Boy’s symbol for opulent sex. Incessant Sabrina propaganda had turned Norma Sykes into a national tonic, a seaside postcard brought to life, sex for the unimaginative, inflated into absurdity.’

(Found 5 Sep 2014)

SabrinaFrom "Starstruck" by Cosmo Landesman

Chapter 5 - Fifties Britain and The Dawn Of Celebrity

Any thinking person over the age of forty is bound to look at contemporary Britain, with its expanding collection of celebrities, famous nobodies, exhibitionists, attention-seekers and celebrity- drenched media magazines, and wonder: when did this whole crazy thing begin? ...

If you want to see the first face of modern British celebrity culture you have to go back to the evening of 15 February 1955 and comedian Arthur Askey’s BBC television series Before Your Very Eyes.

That night millions of viewers saw something they’d never seen before: television’s first sex symbol in action. She was a young, busty, peroxide blonde in a tight black dress making her television debut. Viewers watched in amazement as she slid off a sofa, walked towards the camera, and then slowly turned sideways to reveal the mountain range of her magnificent cleavage. One can only imagine the effect on the families watching: a collective gasp of wonder. Men would fidget on the settee; teenage boys would blush and women would go and put the kettle on.

This mysterious creature remained silent for the entire show. She didn’t do a thing but stand there: a living, breathing pin-up. But no one was complaining. The BBC had given the viewing nation a mute blonde with a cheesy smile, a 41½-inch bust towering over an 18½-inch waist ... and shazam! A star was born. Her name was Sabrina.

Actually, her real name was Norma Sykes and her mother ran a B&B in Blackpool. After her appearance on Askey’s show Sabrina became a showbiz phenomenon, a national star who couldn’t act, dance, sing, juggle or - so it seemed - even speak. She was labelled, displayed and dismissed as ‘Britain’s dumbest blonde’. And yet Sabrina had a huge following of fans. Even after she had left the BBC her popularity showed no signs of declining. She made money from public appearances and modelling, and hardly a day went by when newspapers didn’t carry a Sabrina-related story. Hers was a very British kind of Fifties fame: cheesy, cheap and cheerful. It was imitation Hollywood with a touch of saucy British seaside-postcard vulgarity: starlet meets harlot. Sabrina was paraded at glamorous film premieres and showbiz events, but her bread and butter came from doing the rounds of local openings and special events. She was hired glamour.

All over the backwaters of Britain you got these personal appearances of ‘stars’ - Rank school starlets, B-list actors, television personalities and even pop singers. Those were the days when you could see a young movie star like Dirk Bogarde judging a beauty contest to find Miss Hull.

Sabrina could certainly pull them in. She once went to Sheffield to open a new hardware store and a crowd of four thousand turned up to take a peek at her. It was widely reported that a ‘riot’ broke out when her dress strap broke.

In 1956 Picture Post announced that ‘Sabrina worship has reached a new frenzy’ and frenzied Sabrina fans broke through a police cordon to see her opening the Gondolier, Ipswich’s first espresso coffee bar.

Sabrina is an important figure in the history of British celebrity because her fame so resembles the fame of our own time. Hers was an instant celebrity, one built on nothing but the thin air of glamour shots, gossip, newspaper headlines, magazine features and public appearances. And like so much fame today, Sabrina’s fame in the 1950s had no connection to talent. She knew it and so did everyone else.

There were lots of famous people in Fifties Britain who didn’t have much talent (the public loved Diana Dors, but it wasn’t for her acting). But none of these no-talents were so ridiculed and savaged as Sabrina. God knows she tried to play along with it, cheerfully telling the press, ‘I mustn’t speak or I’ll lose my reputation for being the dumbest blonde in Britain!’

Commentators were baffled. Sabrina seemed to defy the laws of show business, the first one being that you had to have some sort of talent - however modest - to be in the limelight. Photoplay magazine posed the great Sabrina question of the day when it pondered, ‘Incredible, isn’t it, that a girl who has done so little (one TV series, one film and a variety stint) should so soon have become a household word. How long can it go on? How far can she go on her dumb blonde gimmick?’

A year later in 1957 journalists were still asking how long could she go on. Picturegoer magazine tells its readers: ‘at this time last year the talk was like this: “She’ll never last. She’s not a real star. She’s a freak who’ll fade overnight.” Bosomy Sabrina, who seemingly had nothing to commend her but a talented physique, was bitingly listed as The Girl Most Likely Not To Succeed in 1957. But has she faded? She has not. Talent she may not have - her embarrassingly amateurish theatrical appearances prove that - but the Treasure Chest revealed another attribute in 1957: PERSISTENCE.’

How a girl with such a conspicuous absence of talent could be so famous and successful was a question that haunted Sabrina herself She wanted to become a proper part of show business, so she began to take singing and acting lessons. As she told one reporter, ‘After all, a girl needs to have something more than a big bosom.’

But, as we shall see, there would eventually come a time in Britain when a big bosom would indeed be all a girl would need to find fame and build a successful career as a celebrity. Still, Sabrina - who now lives a quiet life in Hollywood - has had the last laugh. Where once she was dismissed as a dumb blonde, she has had a retrospective makeover and become the smart, media-savvy pioneer of the modern art of self-promotion. No longer a national joke, she is now seen and celebrated as the Jordan of her day. Sabrina’s celebrity challenges some of the dearest assumptions we have about Britain in the 1950s. The self-indulgent, celebrity- obsessed 1960s are often contrasted with the good old sensible 1950s. Nick Clarke, in The Shadow of a Nation, portrays that decade as the golden era before the thick, unreal fog of celebrity settled across Britain. He points to the fact that we were then still a nation of radio listeners. Television, which he holds responsible for Britain’s slide into celebrity culture, had not yet become the tyrant in the centre of our living rooms and our lives. It’s tempting to take a romantic view of the 1950s as a pre-Hello! Britain when people had real communities composed of family, neighbours, workmates and friends to gossip and relate to, and not the virtual communities of celebrities they have now. The psychologist Oliver James argues that it was a time when we were far happier because we were not so driven by material wants and the longing for celebrity. And instead of the opiate of heat and Hello!, ordinary people had socially aware magazines and newspapers like Picture Post and the Daily Sketch. Most important of all, in those days fame was hard to come by. ‘The only route to fame and fortune was through achievements in some field of public endeavour,’ writes Nick Clarke. But, as the case of Sabrina shows, this wasn’t quite true. All sorts of unlikely people, many utterly devoid of talent, found themselves inexplicably famous, thanks to a new cultural force in British life: television.

Although television broadcasting in Britain officially began in 1936, it only became popular in the late 1950s. At the start of that decade only 4 per cent of the adult population owned a television set; by its end this had risen to 80 per cent. Television had become a pail of the daily fabric of ordinary lives. As Harry Hopkins noted in the New Look. ‘Each morning at the bus stop, on the railway platform, in office and shop and factory there was a new conversation to replace “the weather” ... it was, “Did you see so- and-so on television last night?”’

What Henry Ford’s assembly line did for the manufacturing of cars, television did for fame. It began the mass production of a whole new class of television-bred celebrities: presenters, announcers, entertainers, game-show hosts, soap-opera stars, weather girls and quiz-show contestants. They entered the homes and hearts of the British public, becoming, as Hopkins put it, ‘invisible members of the family circle, and a part of the furniture of the home in a way that film stars had never been before.’ That was because television created the illusion of intimacy between viewers and the viewed far better than the cinema.

Television could turn anyone - comedian, cook or serious commentator - into a celebrity for no other reason than that they appeared on television. Recognition became a form of renown. By simply being on ‘the telly’ you were a somebody.


In 1957 ABC TV broadcast a game show called Can Do, featuring Jon Pertwee - later of Doctor Who fame - as the host. Celebrities were given various stunts to perform, and the contestants had to guess whether the celebrity could do it or not. One episode featured Sabrina in a bikini diving into a 20-foot glass cage full of water in order to find and open an oyster with a pearl inside.

[Added 5 Sept 2014]

Sabrina bulletFrom Betty: The Autobiography (Betty Driver [1920-2011]) pub. 2000, page 160.

Sabrina was a sweet girl who didn't do much. At one time she worked with Arthur Askey, just walking on and off the stage, looking stunning. She was a gimmick: tall with a huge bust. Her real name was Norma Sykes and we liked each other...

Sabrina bulletFrom Terry-Thomas' Autobiography – Filling The Gap (1959) - p. 96

Terry-Thomas bio

Now that I come to think of it, I did once play a hero and a romantic one at that; it was for Picture Post. [29 October 1955]. They were doing one of those three-dimensional picture features (you know, the things you look at through red and green glasses) and the subject was 'My Fondest Dream'.

I said I could imagine myself as a Cavalier rescuing a maiden from the Roundheads. They gave me Sabrina as my heroine - just for the day, of course.

After we had shot these pieces of Tom- or Terry-foolery, Freddie Mullally, the Editor, took us both to lunch at a very charming little Italian restaurant off the Gloucester Road. We were discussing cooking during the meal and Sabrina boasted that she didn't know anything about the subject at all. Freddie said, 'Do you want to marry a rich man?' Sabrina answered, 'Yes, I suppose I do.'

'Well, those marriages very rarely last,' said Freddie, 'and it's within the bounds of possibility that, by the time it's broken up, the charms for which you are famous will have lost some of their glamour and resilience. You'd be surprised what a help being able to cook can be.'
Was it George Meredith who said, 'Cooking lasts longer than kisses' ? I know it wasn't me - because I am a romantic and, much as I love food . . . well, you see what I mean.

Although I know Sabrina quite well, I wonder how she started. Probably in a beauty competition. She comes from Blackpool and, when I used to play there, I seemed to spend half my time in that district - Morecambe, Fleetwood, St Anne's - judging beauty competitions.
I always feel a bit of a Charlie at these affairs because I have never really been able to appreciate why, for reasons other than hunger, a girl can bring herself to enter one of these competitions.

I once judged a competition in Shepherd Market with Lady Lewisham, and I noticed she fell, hook, line and sinker, for one of the entrants. I didn't think much of her - the entrant, I mean - but Lady Lewisham has a way with her and she got it. Afterwards, I asked her why she was so keen on this particular girl. She replied, 'She's the only one who's clean.'
I usually chose the one without corns.

Added 21 Feb 2010, thanks to Ian Payne.

From my original posting of these pictures:

Does anyone have any idea what these 3 pix are? The only colour ones, it's very unlikely that they are from some unknown film. Was it a sketch or some publicity for the unknown actor with the sword?

Sabrina and Terry-Thomas
Sabrina and Terry-Thomas
Sabrina and Terry-Thomas

bulletFrom "Box of Delights: The Golden Age of Television" by Hilary Kingsley & Geoff Tibballs. Published by Macmillan, 1989.

Sabrina drove men to distraction in the fifties with her version of the fuller figure. With vital statistics of 42-19-36, Sabrina (real name Norma Sykes) was an enormous hit on Arthur Askey's television series 'Before Your Very Eyes'. Aged just seventeen and the daughter of a Blackpool landlady, she was the original dumb blonde. Indeed, part of her gimmick was that she never said a word on screen.

In 1965 she tired of her image and went to the States with the intention of becoming a serious actress. Instead she married a successful young Beverly Hills surgeon, Dr Harold Melsheimer, who had never heard of her. This, she said, was part of the attraction. However, they were subsequently divorced. Now fifty [in 1989] , Sabrina still lives in California and only rarely visits England.

Thanks to Simon Vaughan of the APTS for finding this Sabrina Snippet.

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