Encyclopedia Sabrina (Norma Ann Sykes)

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The Curious Incident of

Sabrina's 1956 Royal Command Variety Performance

Hear Sabrina discussing in our 2011 interview what her act before the queen was going to be

A Sabrina Incident 5 November 1956: Sabrina was on the bill for the 1956 Royal Command Variety Performance in London as a 'surprise artist'. Sadly, the performance was cancelled. Liberace was in tears, and Sabby was disappointed.

Artists who were to appear in last night's Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium discussing the decision to cancel the show because of the international situation. L. to R.: Jerry Colonna, Harry Secombe, Liberace, Beryl Reid and Sabrina.

Added 2022-04-29.

The photo caption reads:

ROYAL VARIETY PERFORMANCE CANCELLED. Artists who were to appear in last night's Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium discussing the decision to cancel the show because of the international situation. L. to R.: Jerry Colonna, Harry Secombe, Liberace, Beryl Reid and Sabrina.


1956 Royal Command programme
Sabrina appears in the programme

Sabrina meets David Whitfield Sabrina meets David Whitfield
Two versions of Sabby and David Whitfield, 5 Nov 1956,
at the Royal Variety Performance rehearsal
at the London Palladium.

She was very disappointed when the show was cancelled due to the Suez Canal crisis

Sabrina - Norma Ann Sykes

I just bet you boys would kill for a picture of Sabrina mournfully inspecting the dress she would have worn to the Variety Performance. Here 'tis! It is of sugar pink lame with shaded pink net.

Sabrina - Norma Ann Sykes
'Hard Luck Sabrina 5 Nov 1956' - Mail

Sabrina did eventually get to perform at the Palladium in 1958 .

It's not often that Sabrina is upstaged, but Liberace did it, and Sabby's mum looks delighted to be there.
This was probably taken at the aborted Royal Command Performance of 1956.

Naturally, there had to be some Sabrina-based controversy before the big event.

Confusion on television

Not even the actors knew if they were rehearsing for the Royal Variety Show or just for a normal regular broadcast.

This evening the Queen will view a colourful show in the Palladium Theatre, and afterwards well-known performers will be introduced to her.

Yesterday evening a number of colourful performances were broadcast on the economic news TV channel, which were supposedly to have been part of the program for tonight.

In reality however, only one performance, by a choir, was among them. Since everything was to be kept somewhat hush-hush, the real rehearsals had been included as well. The photo shows Sabrina, who wanted to wear a new pink dress, but had to listen to the following request: either cover yourself up more, or "flatten yourself [i.e. your chest] down". The dress displays too much cleavage for this occasion. "Naturally" Sabrina was quite put out - how are you supposed to flatten yourself down? Then you'd be nobody.

Thanks to Herr David for the translation from the German.

1 February 1961 - Evening Times

Show Off

CHARLES Henry, responsible with Val Parnell for 12 royal variety shows at the Palladium, had his biggest disappointment four years ago.

Rehearsals had gone on as usual all day Sunday and on Monday ready for the big occasion on the Monday evening.

A fantastic programme had been arranged, including Gracie Fields, Liberrace, Bob Monkhouse, Winifred Atwell, the Crazy Gang — and Sabrina.

The time was 3.49 p.m. Suddenly a white-faced Val Parnell announced — "Everybody on stage."

Then he told the hundreds of performers lined up as rehearsed for the final scene of that night - "We have had some shattering news from the Palace. Due to the landings in the Middle East and the consequent bloodshed, the Queen has been advised not to attend.

"As she won't be with us to-night it has been decided not to go on with the show without her."

Libcrace wept openly and un ashamedly. Winifred Atwell Invited Alma Cogan, Dicky Valentine, and Jimmv Wheeler into her dressing-room to try to raise their spirits; and Gracie, typical Gracie, commented: "What else could they do.with all this fighting going on, luv?"

For once the show business tradition — THE SHOW MUST GO ON—did not operate.

It was one of the most dramatic — and most disappointing— moments in the Palladium's 50 years' history.

Disappointing, especially for the shapely Sabrina. Her name was not among those when choice was made 12 months later.

"What puzzles me, said Sabrina at the time, "is why I was good enough to be picked last year when I must admit that I didn't have much real stage experience.

"Yet now, after I've been in revue for several months, I'm apparently not good enough."


6 November 1956 - Daily Express

Sabrina goes back to her pork pie

The time is 3.55 yesterday afternoon. Val Parnell steps up to the microphone on the stage of the London Palladium to announce "a shattering message from Buckingham Palace."

The cast of stars for the Royal Variety Show had been rehearsing their acts, were assembling for the finale when the blow fell.

The most disappointed were not the stars, but 112 working men from Wales —the Morriston Orpheus Choir, who paid their own expenses to sing their songs for the Queen.

THE pink gown which Sabrina was to wear hung unfinished in a wardrobe. And the extra inch of bodice added "for the Queen's sake" was not necessary after all.

The 400 performers attending for rehearsals were told the Queen would not be coming after all — and that though there had been no request to stop it the show would not go on.

Then Tommy Trinder spoke for the artist. " Just think," he said, "trying to make people laugh with THAT BOX empty."

And great-hearted Gracie Fields — as one woman to another — said : "I'm sure the Queen must be feeling dreadful. I think it was the right thing to cancel it."
Liberace, at, first, said nothing. He issued a written statement. "Disappointed, but…". He returns to America today.

It was Harry Secombe — the Big Goon — who thought up the party. The stars had missed one of the biggest dates in show business. So Harry got as many of them as he could in his dressing-room.


There they were—Secombe, Winifred Atwell, Max Bygraves, Liberace, Jimmy Wheeler, and Sabrina's mother, all round the TV set in the cosy dressing-room.
Sabrina, wearing black tapered slacks and tight sweater, sprawled out in an armchair.

"Perhaps people think I am dumb," she said, twiddling her toes. "But there is an art in being dumb. I have been looking toward this night — and couldn't sleep for thinking of meeting the Queen. For the very first time in my life I was going to sing. A wonderful number called "Temptation," and now I won't have a chance to sing."

She pouted, and went on: "My lame dress was something out of this world. I can't say how much it cost, but it had to be seen to be believed. There were yards and yards In the skirt which did marvellous things for me, and the bodice was covered over with pearl drops.

'"But I hadn't had the final fitting, it was going to be sewn on me before the show started to make sure that it was really a perfect fit. Now it will never be finished."

And Sabrina reached over for another pork pie from a paper parcel.
Liberace, wearing his casual clothes — a gold-threaded, crew-neck, black pullover and black trousers, gripped me fiercely by the shoulder. Tears veiled up into his hazel brown eyes, and he said: "I'm more disappointed than I can even talk about. But I quite understand how the Queen feels. She has all my sympathy… and I sincerely hope and pray that this sad business in Hungary and all the rest of it will work out.


"Our disappointment tonight is just a tiny cog in the misery that thousands of other people must be going through."
He sipped at his gin, made his good-byes, and hurried off to his hotel.
While the party was going on the last props were being removed from the theatre. Eric Delaney's band collected their instruments and stacked them in their van.

Chic Murray. the Scots comedian invited to his first Royal Performance, was so unhappy about it.
"My wife had an evening gown made for her by one of the big Paris dress shops at fabulous cost. Now she is sitting in her hotel, too disappointed to think about anything else."

Max Bygraves played a solitary blues tune on a ramshackle piano in one of the corridors and then went back to help Sabrina finish the pork pie.
One of the members of the Palladium management said : "One of our biggest headaches now is giving back the £13,000 which has been paid by the public for tickets for the performance which didn't come off."


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