Encyclopedia Sabrina (Norma Ann Sykes)

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The Curious Incident of

Sabrina's Walkout at the Savoy Luncheon

27 September 1956

Take a fancy hotel and a gaggle of society ladies. Add Sabrina. Stir, and stand well back.

Don't confuse this event with the speech she made at the Savoy on 10 April of the same year.

Sabrina Says Her Piece Sabrina at the Savoy 1956

Daily Mirror, 28 September 1956

Up stood Sabrina, the "dumb" blonde. "I've been insulted," she said.
And she walked out of the banqueting hall— where 400 V.I.P. women were having lunch — because she was not allowed to make a speech.
It happened yesterday at the Savoy Hotel, London.
The Marchioness of Lothian, chairman of the "Women of the Year" lunch in aid of blind children, was about to announce the speakers.
Suddenly Sabrina rose from her seat between Lady Fairfax of Cameron and dress designer Miss Flora Rahvis.
She whispered her "I've been insulted" and walked to the banqueting overflow room.


There she explained: "About two months ago the lunch organisers asked me, through my business manager [Joe Matthews] , if I would speak at the lunch,
"I was delighted. I got a drama teacher to produce my speech for me, and I've been learning it all summer.
"Then two weeks ago I was told that despite advertisements including my name among the speakers I was not going to be permitted to speak after all.
"I was so terribly disappointed that last night I went to see Lady Lothian at her Mayfair home. I pleaded with her to let me say my piece, but she just said "No."
"I came along today, hoping the organisers would change their minds."
Sabrina, wearing a tight-fitting black suit, tossed her golden hair and said:

Then, surrounded by the few guests in the room, Sabrina began:
"It is indeed a great honour to be here today surrounded as I am by so many distinguished people..."
A burst of clapping came from the main hall, where the Begum Shaispa Ikramullah, wife of the High Commissioner for Pakistan, was speaking on "How Can the Career Woman Lead a Successful Double Life."

Sabrina went on: "As most of you know. I was cast into the spotlight of fame on the crest of a gimmick, a lot of luck and somewhat unusual measurements..."
"Perhaps speaking here today should help in convincing the world at large that I can say the right thing in the right place..."

The Stage , London (4 October 1956p.1)


Bad organisation and lack of diplomacy reaped a just reward at the Women of the Year Luncheon last week at the Savoy when Sabrina's walk-out got all the publicity.

Presumably invited because of her publicity value, Sabrina was initially given to understnad that she would be making a speech as one of the four chosen women of the the year.

Rather pleased at the honour, it seems, particularly when told the names of the other three, Sabrina spared no effort to match up to the occasion. She made arrangements to be specially released by her company so she could fly down from Blackpool for the event and she was coached in after-luncheon speaking.

With a pettiness curiously at odds with her eminence, it sheems that another of the invited speakers declined to appear upon the same bill as the prominent but normally non-vocal blonde artist. The public, but not Sabrina, was thereupon informed through a daily newspaper that she would not be speaking. So, the lunch concluded, Sabrina walked out.

The Press, invited no doubt because of their usefulness in getting people's names in papers, were treated with a similar lack of consideration. When the time came for the speeches, the doors were locked and the Press were curtly told that they must hear the speeches over a relay system in an adjoining room. The event was for charity — the Greater London Fund for the Blind — otherwise many members of the Press themselves would probably have walked out at this point. Gladys Morgan , who seconded the main speeches in a vote of thanks, spoke generously of the help she had received from her family. Dame Edith Evans , who made a bit as one of the main speakers on the subject, "Can the Career Woman Lead a Successful Double Life?" said her husband's reply to the question, "Do you want me to give up my career?" was "Well, no. I'd rather have you 20 per cent alive than 80 per cent dead, so you'd better carry on."

Alicia Markova , Catherine Boyle , Winifred Atwell , Kay Hammond and Avril Angers , were others at the luncheon, at which the Begum Shaispa Ikramullah and Rosamund Lehmann also spoke.

Sabrina From: 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'.

28 September 1956 - Daily Express

At the "Women of the Year" luncheon at the Savoy yesterday...

There had, of course, to be an incident. Miss Norma Sykes, better known to TV viewers as Sabrina, walked out during the lunch when she found she wasn't being asked to speak.

THEN she sat in an adjoining room and SPOKE: "It was all announced in the papers that I was to speak so I got a drama teacher to coach me. I am terribly disappointed after all that hard work."

Lady Lothian, who was chairman. told me: "I told Miss Sykes that we had already devised a list of guest speakers and that, owing to the difficulty of her getting down to London from the North we had dropped the idea of her speaking at the lunch."

Nelson Leader - Friday 19 October 1956 , page 11)

...However, the "distinguished women" looked a thriving, happy bunch — animated, chattering, with plenty of model hats and furs and jewellery among them. The only unhappy one was Sabrina that girl who made her name on television by being so dumb. She wanted to break her silence and make a speech — and they wouldn't let her. But then, after all, Sabrina isn't married — yet.

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