Encyclopedia Sabrina (Norma Ann Sykes)

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Australasian Post, 9 June 1960

Note: this is part 1 of a 4-week series in the Australasian Post. I don't have part 2 yet, but we do have the exciting part 3 !

In her desperate search for publicity she baited a trap for a photographer


Sabrina has her portrait painted 1957

Sabrina for posterity.This portrait was destined for the Grundy Art Gallery at Blackpool, England.

Sabrina portait Fred Ward 4Sept56

(A better quality, but cropped version. Taken 4 September 1956 - so this article appeared 4 years later!)

BRITAIN'S most talked about show girl tells the intimate story of her rise to stardom, of how she made every move, calculating the effect on her future fame.

I am a star. It took me six years to learn my part in show business, but they were six of the hardest years of my life.

I have posed for revealing photos because I was hungry. I have intentionally fainted on the stage of the Prince of Wales theatre because I had a hangover.

I have used men as playthings to achieve my ends and have, in turn, been ruthlessly exploited by them.

I have mixed with the good and the bad, the famous and the infamous, I have been promoted as the sex symbol of the nation. Now, for the first time I am writing my story in its entirety. I have not glamorised it or touched it up. It may shock, astound, excite or depress you. It is the truth.

Now I am the star of my own show on the swank Miami Beach, the only English entertainer in one of the greatest entertainment centres in the world. I am telling my story now that I am at the top for I feel that it is an important one for every stagestruck girl or worried parent.

The world of entertainment is glamorous, star spangled, and exciting to the general public. To a teen-ager from a middle class North country home as I was, it turned out to be a ruthless jungle. It did not take me long to get tough. It took me even less time to be exploited. I learned early that I had to fight my own way. No holds are barred. The normal human decencies are in many cases ignored.

One of my most regular escorts at one time was the tall, good-looking Prince Christian of Hanover; a prince of one of the oldest royal houses in Europe, a brother of Queen Frederika of Greece and popular in London society.

Poor Christian; when I look back on what I did to him, I feel ashamed. At the time, however, he was simply another rung on the ladder to the top. He hated publicity. He had been trained to avoid it.

Sidebar - from a glossy photo I have

Sabrina and Prince Christian of Hanover 1957

Best of our Beautiful Sabrina - VIP access

The Prince and the Showgirl

Popular showgirl Sabrina appears to be having plenty of fun with Prince Christian of Hanover over dinner at the Colony Restaurant, London. It is said that the Prince planned to escort Sabrina to the Variety Artists Ladies' Ball at the Dorchester Hotel - but he is unable to do so as he is still in mourning for Prince George of Greece. 9 December 1957

We would never meet in public. Always he would either pick me up at my flat, or I would join him in his flat.

In spite of his precautions, stories about our friendship and pictures of us together soon started to appear in the newspapers. The poor dear never suspected for a moment that it was I who was tipping them off.

It was through Prince Christian I got exactly the sort of publicity I thought I needed.

Soon, however, ordinary pictures of us together were not enough. The Sunday papers wanted something different, something more intimate. I saw to it they got what they wanted.

One evening I asked Christian to take me to the River Club, one of the smartest of London's night clubs. Here we were joined as part of the plan, although Christian did not know this, by my manager Joe Matthews, one-time press photographer.

After coffee and several brandies I thought the time was ripe. I told Christian I wanted some romantic pictures of the two of us for my private album.

"How lucky it is," I said, "Joe has brought his camera with him, we can take the pictures now." He was very reluctant, but finally agreed to do so, provided I promised him that I would not use the photos for any publicity purposes.

I glibly promised, and it was only a matter of seconds before Joe set up his camera and started flashing pictures of me with my arm entwined round Christian's neck and even some of me actually kissing him.

The Sunday paper was delighted. I got the publicity I wanted and Prince Christian stopped a right royal rocket from his sister Queen Frederika, who warned him that there would be very serious consequences if anything like it happened again.

In spite of that, Christian and I continued to see each other, and it only ended when he began to take me too seriously.

All this of course was far removed from my early days in London where I took a tiny attic room with no window, just a ceiling grating, over a cafe in the King's Cross. Here I eked out a living by making costume jewellery and selling it through some of the local shops, but it was tiring and precarious work.

I soon realised the effect my 42-18-35 figure had on people. They would frequently stop and stare at me in the street especially if I was wearing a sweater, but it was some months before the idea of photographic modelling ever occurred to me.

It happened in an extraordinary way. Alex Sterling, the well-known fashion and news photographer, saw a snapshot of me in the wallet of one of my. friends. The next thing I knew was that I got a telegram from him asking me to see him.

I didn't know what to do. I was frightened and finally went in to a well-known Bond Street photographic dealer to ask them if they had ever heard of a photographer called Alex Sterling. They assured me that he was very well known.

I went round to see him and then and there we started a series of sittings that was to bring my face and figure before the public for the first time. Almost every day I went to his enormous studio. He must have taken nearly 1000 shots in every kind of pose.

After that I moved from King's Cross into a tiny one-roomed flat in Kensington, which was to be my home and that of my dog for the next year. I found, however, that photographic modelling was no easy way to a fortune. My figure meant that fashion modelling was impossible for me and there was not enough pin-up work available to earn a good living. For months I lived on little except bread, potatoes and tins of baked beans. Almost all the meat I could afford went to my dog.

One day I received a booking from a studio in Paddington. I was not asked to bring any accessories, but was simply told to be there at 10 a.m.

When I got there it was a tiny studio with barely enough room to turn round. Almost the only furniture was a rather dilapidated couch. The photographer looked at me rather non-committally and said, "Get undressed. We are a bit late and I want to get on with it as quickly as possible."

I was completely flabbergasted. "You mean you expect me to pose in the nude? I have never done such a thing in my life/'

"Of course, didn't I tell you?" came the answer. "Please hurry up." For a moment I just stood motionless. I did not know what to do. I knew one thing. I had not had any breakfast that morning because there was no food in the house, and I had walked the last mile to the studio because I did not have enough money for the bus fare. There was only one answer. I needed the money too badly to refuse to do the job.

At last, about an hour later, it was over. I do not think I have ever got dressed quite so quickly in my life, and I literally rushed from the studio. Clasped tightly in my hand in my pocket was the princely sum of 15/-.

I have never since posed in the nude for anyone, but those pictures were to dog my whole career. As soon as I had started to appear on the Arthur Askey television show and my face and figure became known to millions all over Britain, the photographer rushed to cash in on his one hour's work.

A break on TV

Thousands of post-card size enlargements were produced and distributed to sleezy book-stalls, and junk shops all over Britain. A vast under-the-counter trade in pictures of me was carried on and I was virtually powerless to prevent i t.

Soon, however, something was to happen that was to change the whole course of my career. I had joined Bill Watts' agency which represented many of London's top glamor girls. One day I was asked to come along for an audition and was given no idea at all what it was for. I went along to find myself one of about 20 girls with an awe-inspiring selection committee of four, including Arthur Askey.

I walked onto the stage, paraded up and down in front of them and then walked off. I was pulled back again immediately and asked to do it again.

The following day I was tele phoned by Bill Watts and informed "the job is yours." I did not even know what the job was and told him so. It was only then that I learne d that I had been audit ioning for the glamor spot in the new television series starring Arthur Askey that was about to be launched.

Right from the very beginning, the idea seemed to tickle the interest of the Press. It was almost the first time that the BBC had indulged in such blatant sex appeal.

Those first few weeks of television were amongst the happiest, the most exciting of my life. It was a new world and an enthralling one. I loved working with Arthur Askey who was kind, tolerant and exactly like a father to me.

Soon, however, I was to learn for the first time the power and the unpleasantness of the wicked rumors that were to follow me round through so much of my career.

I was made so miserable by this that I searched out Anthea, Arthur Askey's daughter, and poured out the whole story to her. "Take no notice" she told me, "that is one of the vices of sho w business. When they don't talk about you at all, though, it is even worse."

Although I had no stage experience, my face and figure became familiar to millions through the medium of television, and as a result, unscrupulous theatrical managers and agents tumbled over themselves to get in on the act.

I was libelled

Taking a rise out of Sabrina became almost a national pastime. A book called " Cinderella Nightingale " was published, and the heroine resembled me too closely for there to be any mistake as to who it was intended to be. The additions in this case gave me no alternative but to sue the publisher and the author for libel. I won the case, and all the remaining copies of the book had to be recalled from circulation. By then, however, much of the damage had been done.

Read up on the Cinderella Nightingale libel suit

 cinderella Nightingale


It was at about this time that I began to meet the famous and the infamous. I was having a quiet cup of coffee in the King's Road, Chelsea, when a man introduced himself to me as Denis Hamilton, the husband of Diana Dors. I was very impressed.

After a short conversation he offered to take me back to show me his house in Chelsea. He had a friend with him so it seemed to be all right, and I was very excited at the idea of seeing a real film star's house. I was still very much the girl from the country thrilled at being in the big city. We drove back to the house and went in to find the most extraordinary sight. There was not a stick of furniture in the place except one bed in a bedroom and two chairs and a tiny table in the sitting room. Almost as soon as we got in. Denis sat down in a chair and pulled the other close to him for me to sit in, while his friend disappeared, ostensibly to make tea.

I had no idea of what was happening until suddenly I found Denis' arms around me and he tried to kiss me. While I was fighting him off I heard muffled giggles coming from a cupboard. I leapt up, rushed to the cup board, threw open the door and and found Denis' friend looking very sheepish and embarrassed. I did not stop for tea, but left them abruptly to enjoy it alone.

In later years I saw quite a lot of Denis and in spite of his flamboyancies and excesses I could not help but like him. After his separation from Diana Dors he approached me with a view to becoming my manager. "Together we can easily out-Dors Dors, if you know what I mean," he told me. I did not take that as a compliment so I turned his offer down. It was producer Robert Nesbitt who first gave me the inspiration that I so desperately needed.

He made me wear my hair up instead of in the almost Veronica Lake style that I had adopted. He made me sophisticated and he gave me the first real stage training I had ever received. He produced the show in which I starred at the Prince of Wales. It ran for nearly a year, and in the end I had developed some of the confidence in my own ability that I had lacked. I can now tell the truth about one incident which, at the time, got me not only a lot of publicity but also completely undeserved public sympathy. It was one of the biggest days of the year, the evening performance on Boxing Night. There was a packed house with everyone in the theatre in a party mood — everyone, that is, except me.

I had had my party mood the night before, had got home in the late early hours and was busy paying the inevitable consequences. From the moment I stepped on to the stage that night with a headache that made it seem as if someone were building submarines inside my skull, I knew that something awful was going to happen. There was only one thing I could think of on the spur of the moment, and that was to faint. I did it very dramatically, collapsing at the feet of the centre microphone. I was putting on the act of my life.

I heard a great gasp go up from t he audience, and then I felt my self lifted and carried to the dressing room. Then I heard someone calling for an ambulance, and I decided that things were getting a bit out of hand. I made a splendid and rapid recovery, but not quite quickly enough to go on again that night.

One of the highspots of my year was my visit to Royal Ascot. I had never been before, and I was determined to dress for the occasion. Ever since I was a little girl I had visions of Royal Ascot with enormous picture hats and very full-skirted dresses. I put the lot on and sailed into the paddock enclosure to discover to my horror that I was practically the only person who had dressed up. Almost everyone else was wearing smart but simple dresses and tiny cloche hats. That was not how I had always dreamed Royal Ascot to be.

Sabrina at Ascot races

Sabrina at Ascot. Her low-cut neckline caused a minor sensation in the Royal Enclosure. She was asked to leave.
[See more pictures]

This was also the occasion when I gate-crashed the Royal Enclosure. It was unintentional, but what a furore it caused.

All I wanted to do was to powder my nose, and the only ladies' cloakroom that I could see was the other side of a barrier at one corner of the paddock enclosure.

I did not hesitate. I walked straight through and no one made the slightest attempt to stop me. It was only when I came out and was strolling nonchalantly through the Royal Enclosure that one of the attendants tapped me on the shoulder.

Sabrina in a Perth wine cellar

Sabrina in Australia, posing prettily on a barrel of wine in a Perth (WA) wine cellar.

Far too often I seem to get involved with dramatic events that are not of my making in any way. I can now reveal a secret that I have jealously guarded ever since the terrible night that Anthony Beauchamp, top society photographer and son-in-law of Sir Winston Churchill, was found dead in his flat in Hyde Park Gardens.

It was a tragic case of suicide and one of the central figures at the inquest was Lady Jane Vane Tempest Stewart, the beautiful sister of the Marquess of Londonderry, who had been one of the last people who had seen him on that fateful night. It was disclosed that she was only one of three women that he had visited before finishing the evening by taking his own life.

I can now reveal that I was one of the other women. Anthony was always a very mixed-up boy. He lived alone in his flat. His marriage with Sarah Churchill was on the rocks, and the one thing that he dreaded above all else was to be left alone. On that last night he came round to my flat after I had already been in bed for half an hour. He begged me to get up and make some coffee. Reluctantly, and in a very bad humor I did so. We sat in the sitting room of my flat chatting for about 30 minutes, and I can remember well feeling desperately sorry for him. Finally, however, almost dropping asleep, I had to insist he left.

NEXT WEEK: The men in my life — why I have never married or even been engaged.

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