Encyclopedia Sabrina (Norma Ann Sykes)

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Arthur Askey recalls Norma (Sabrina) Sykes

Many thanks to Paul Walsh for scanning these pages

Here is Arthur Askey's discussion of Sabrina from his biography "Before Your Very Eyes", pages 164-165:

"As with the Morecambe and Wise show today, all the top actors, announcers, and musicians were dying to appear on the show [ Before Your Very Eyes ]. There were new series in 1955, 1956 and 1957. Unfortunately Dickie Henderson could not appear in these and therefore I felt I wanted to give the show a gimmick of some sort. So I hit on the idea of having a dumb blonde around the set. The BBC was rather alarmed and wanted to know what I intended to do with her! I didn't know myself at the time, but I got my own way, and so Sabrina was born. We held auditions for a suitable dumb-cluck and found one in Norma Sykes.

She had a lovely face and figure, but could not act, sing, dance, or even walk properly, although she had come to London to try her luck as a model. I asked her what she was doing and she told me she was making artificial jewellery, as her broken nails bore witness. Anyway, she was exactly what we wanted.

I had just finished appearing in a farce at the Palace Theatre and this was followed by a show called Sabrina Fair , so I changed her name from Norma to Sabrina [read the debate about who gets credit for naming Norma as Sabrina] . You will have to take my word that I did not engage her on the size of her bust. I knew she was 'well built' but had no idea how big she really was until the BBC wardrobe mistress told me she couldn't get Sabrina into a medieval costume on account of her enormous chest. I realised then that I had unknowingly struck 'gold in them thar hills'!

Sabrina and Terry-Thomas

But she really was 'dumb' in those days. I was opening a garden fête and was asked if I could bring her along. After the opening the vicar's young daughter curtsied and presented Sabrina with a bouquet of flowers. 'Sabby' said, 'No thank you - we've got plenty of flowers at home.'! She eventually became bigger (in every sense) than me in the show and we couldn't keep the Fleet Street reporters and interviewers away from Lime Grove. The tail began to wag the dog, so she had to go. But with the money she made she had acting, singing, dancing and deportment lessons and eventually finished up doing a very polished cabaret act with special songs, usually about her deformity!

People often ask me 'Whatever happened to Sabrina?' and I tell them that she is now married to an American doctor and living in Hollywood. Whenever she visits this country, she usually calls on me, and she looks a million dollars, with her American grooming and her mid-Atlantic accent. Who said I wasn't a talent-spotter!"

'Before Your Very Eyes' screened from 1952-1955 (BBC) to 1956-1958 (ITV)

Sabrina and Arthur Askey
Sabrina and Arthur Askey

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