Encyclopedia Sabrina (Norma Ann Sykes)

Sabrina, Britain's first sex bomb, has become a tragic down and out recluse in Beverly Hills

As today's surgically enhanced stars chase riches, the woman who began it all is living alone in squalor

by Fiona Wingett and Peter Sheridan

Recluse article

Note: Material that was not from the MOS article appears in yellow-shaded boxes like this.

Read Sabrina's 2003 exclusive Sabrina Site responses to this article

See the Mail On Sunday's apology printed in 2005

AS JORDAN, the pneumatic 32FF-cup glamour model, fresh back from a nude centrefold shoot at Hugh Hefner's playboy mansion, contemplates her next career move, she would do well to consider a woman who was, in many ways, the first Jordan of them all.

Katie Price In case you were wondering, this is Jordan (Katie Price) and her 3 boob jobs (and her lips look like the cellulite from a hundred fat women have been pumped in there too) - her sorry story was in her [now abandoned] homepage wherein "Cheeky Jordan" proudly reveals how she spends hundreds of pounds on hardcore sex videos and associated hardware, and what she uses them for. Sabrina might have been a publicity-hound (and a pioneer in the field), but she rigorously drew the line at sleaze or porn - even though it might have greatly advanced her career if she had not. You could call it morality, dignity, or fear... but I call it character. Sigh. There are too many Jordans. Not enough Sabrinas. That's what the Jordans will never understand - and it's why they disappear and our Sabrina remains - half a century later.

It's unlikely that Jordan has ever heard of Sabrina, the great pin-up of the Fifties. But if anything, she was an even bigger star - and certainly had a bigger bosom on which she, too, entirely founded her career.

Sabrina was a superstar of dynamic proportions, a blonde sensation féted everywhere she went, who insured her breasts for £100,000 and who was wined and dined by European royalty. Frank Sinatra wanted to date her and 10,000 people would turn up to catch a glimpse of her.

She was even billed just below Terry Thomas, George Cole and the great Joyce Grenfell on the cinema poster of 'Blue Murder at St Trinian's' - the classic series of Ronald Searle girls' school movies which are now to be remade.

But last week, reminiscing about her extraordinary career, she wasn't sitting in a glamorous designer-decorated Beverly Hills home with a pink heart-shaped pool out the back and a convertible Cadillac in the drive.

Instead, she is broken and alone, left only with her memories and a heart filled with bitter disappointment. Her story is one of sad, unfulfilled dreams and shattered promises, a story which Jordan, who also lusts for riches, adulation and international celebrity, would do well to heed.

While Sabrina was the darling of post-war Britain, her hopes of Hollywood stardom never materialised. Today she is living a hermit-like existence in semi-squalour in a grubby Californian suburb.

Sabrina rarely ventures out of her two-bedroom, Spanish-style house in a street nicknamed 'Smog Central' at the intersections of three ten-lane motorways and right underneath the flightpath of Los Angeles' Burbank Airport.



Follow the epic adventures of Sabrinasleuths as they try to determine Sabrina's address , using nothing but tools available on the internet!

Her home has suffered from years of neglect. Outside the front gate, battered sofas and old mattresses are piled up next to her dilapidated old Volvo . Exterior plaster walls are cracked and bare, leaving electrical wires dangerously exposed.

Sabrina house
Sabrina's house in LA

Sabrina's neighbour, Mary Reid , 67, has watched the house deteriorate over eight years. She said: 'She has let that place to rack and ruin. The garden has been a disaster area for years, and the house is an eyesore.'

Sabrina house
The rubbish outside Sabrina's house

31 Dec 2002
But hang on a minute...

That sign... I noticed it when I first posted the page, but never paid much attention to it.
Today I spent an hour with a graphics program (and finally, a pair of binoculars!) trying to read the sign in the middle of the picture. As far as I can make out it says:

These ???
?? city for ??
Apologies for (any?)
inconvenience caused to

And that makes all the difference!

Inside, Sabrina's home seems caught in time. A long, ugly strip of flypaper, peppered with dead insects, hangs yellowing from a ceiling vent. Sabrina spends most of her time in her sitting room which is dominated, bizarrely in the Californian summer heat, by a 6ft tall Christmas tree fully decorated with gold bows and golden glass balls.

Opposite the tree sits a 2ft model of a leprechaun, seemingly a remnant from the March 17 celebrations for St Patrick's Day. Sabrina peers through her kitchen door to watch the world go by, her bleached blonde hair scraped back from her bloated face, and her skin pallid from lack of sun.

She has spent the past 20 years carefully guarding her privacy, and her neighbours paint a picture of an irascible old woman who rarely answers the door to callers. Neighbours rattle the padlocked and chained rear gates for several minutes if they want to contact her, although few do. Eventually, the door opens a crack and Sabrina peers through it.

When presented with a compliment, she recognises it for the empty gesture it is, and laments: 'No, I don't look good. I look awful. I do.'

Mrs Reid said: 'We're all a little bit scared of her. One time a neighbour backed his truck into her driveway and cracked the cement. He gave Sabrina a cheque to pay for the damage, but she never had it repaired, and then took him to court complaining she needed more money.

`I remember when Sabrina's mother was with her, visiting from England. One day I was walking down the street, and from a block away I could hear her mother screaming for Sabrina at the top of her lungs.

`I asked Sabrina about it the next day, to make sure her mother was all right, and she claims to have been in another part of the house and hadn't heard her mother screaming. God knows how.'

Mrs Reid recalls: 'She had a large tumour removed from her hip about five years ago - she showed me the X-rays. The operation left her in a lot more pain than she anticipated, and she told me she was going to sue the hospital, though I don't know if she ever did.

'Now she can walk, but only with difficulty and pain, so she spends most of her time in a wheelchair.'

In fact the ageing Sabrina paints a sorry figure compared with the glamour girl who captured the nation's heart in post-war austerity Britain with its rationing grimness and greyness. Then, she brought a splash of excitement and outrageous fantasy that gave people something to laugh and smile about.

It's difficult for anyone who didn't know her then to understand what Sabrina represented. She was Marilyn Monroe, Diana Dors and Jayne Mansfield all rolled into one, a true British star. It was nearly 48 years ago, in February 1955, that Sabrina took to the stage next to the nation's favourite comedian, Arthur Askey, and was beamed on to black and white TV screens across the country. She did little and said even less. She merely stood there, an archetypal dumb blonde, smiling in a figure-hugging sequinned dress, which the diminutive funnyman performed his routine for the BBC's Before Your Very Eyes

If Askey thought she was a temporary foil to be ditched at a whim, he was wrong. She arrived on the scene at a time when British stars looked stuffy and stiff, pictured in drawing rooms and speaking with clipped accents. In this atmosphere, the curvaceous blonde lit up the world of TV entertainment. She was working class and proud of it, and the public loved her for it. She also had a body that launched a thousand fantasies. It wasn't her acting or shining wit that won her legions of fans ( Askey later wrote that she 'could not act, sing, dance, or even walk properly').

It had been her biggest ambition to carve a career for herself in Hollywood. And this turned out to be the beginning of her downfall. For, quite simply, she didn't have the class needed to make it big in California.

Perhaps by now believing her own publicity - that she was a star of the highest order - she told one interviewer: 'Generally speaking, my figure has been overplayed in the Press. That kind of publicity has gone too far. I don't want to get publicity that way any more.'

( See 'On the QT', May 1961 - Ed.).

Fine words from a woman who - just five years before - couldn't act, dance or sing and who became famous for other talents.

Sabrina party
Click to enlarge

HER career was built on the twin assets of a stupendous 41-inch bust.

Soon she was pictured, always with her cleavage on display, wherever she went. Born Norma Ann Sykes in 1936, she believed she would be a star of the silver screen and pursued her dream with vigour. She was offered tiny roles in a handful of movies , but then found fame as Virginia in Blue Murder at St Trinians in 1959 despite the fact she wasn't given a single line to deliver.

Sabrina in Trinians
See more stills from Blue Murder

She took her 41-17-36 figure and her variety show to tour Australia and, a year later, decided to take on America where she became known as the 'British Bosom Lady.'

( See the newsreel of Sabrina arriving in Australia - 1.5M - Ed.)

BUT if she thought Hollywood would worship at her feet - or bosom - and make her an international star, she made one fatal error, travelling to Cuba as guest of the revolutionary government headed by Fidel Castro. She was later condemned in the American Press.

For the next few years she bounced between England, the States and Australia but when she returned to England in 1964, her glory years had all but gone. Rootless, she tried once more to crack Hollywood. But Tinseltown wasn't listening, and as the attentions of its glittering demimonde disappeared, Sabrina settled for marriage with a wealthy Hollywood gynaecologist, Dr Harold Melsheimer , in 1967. She quit showbusiness and eased back into an opulent married life, complete with a 40ft yacht, sports cars, mink stoles and Hollywood parties. It was light years from her mother's Blackpool boarding house where she spent her early teenage years. Even her Doberman Pinscher had its own bedroom and bathroom. But her rocky marriage to Dr Melsheimer did not survive, and after barely 10 years together they parted in a bitter divorce.

Sabrina then faded, slowly and sadly from public view and moved from her home in the salubrious Woodland Hills, California, to the small north Hollywood house. Mrs Reid said: 'Sometimes she doesn't leave the house for days, or weeks. She'll only leave to go to a doctor's appointment, or the hospital. And then she'll be driven by the man who lives in the small guest house at the back of her home.' That tenant, a retired film executive in his 70s, who identified himself only as Joseph , runs errands for Sabrina, picking up her groceries. 'She is very tired and weak these days, so she sleeps late, sometimes until two in the afternoon," he said.

Years after dropping the name Sabrina, she now uses it more than ever. All her neighbours know her by the stage name, and arriving mail is addressed to 'Sabrina'. Years after she collected the memories of life as a star, of the days when she was wooed by Frank Sinatra, or having fun with Dick Van Dyke , she is alone. A salutary lesson for the likes of Jordan.

A Note From the Editor

I guess we all suspected that Sabrina's physical charms would have succumbed to the attrition of the years, though none of us would have wanted to believe it. I find it sad, however, that a girl with enough grandiose vision and daring to break out of a Blackpool B&B to become a star ends up like this.

I'm actually relieved the authors of the article did not include a picture of Sabrina in 2002. I think she, and we, would rather remember her in the halcyon days when she was Sabrina and could draw a crowd big enough to make part of an airport collapse.

Then again, I doubt the worthy reporters got beyond the security chain on Sabrina's front door to have a chance at a fresh photograph. The only direct quote by Sabrina sounds like one made before the door was slammed shut and the press went off searching for neighbours.

10 Sept 02: Fiona Wingett, one of the authors of the article, wrote to say:

We did ask her for an interview, but after years of semi-seclusion, she couldn't, in the end, make up her mind to do it. We're still hoping she might change her mind - and I'm sure she would be a great interview.

It certainly would, Fiona!

As Mundell Lowe - who created the music to 'Satan in High Heels' - said in his traditional all-caps after he read the article:


And 'Sir H' remarked:

'It is an amazing and depressing story. Sad to see her in such bad health, angry and seemingly friendless. It’s a pity she can’t see your site – it would be a shot in the arm, assuming she hasn’t lost her sense of humour entirely. My reservations are that the Mail journalists haven’t interviewed her, apparently only talked to one neighbour, and have just cobbled together her life story. And British tabloids love a story like this: young beautiful thing, vain and with inflated hopes, crashes against cold, hard reality and ends life as bitter, angry recluse. But while this is a cliché it may be very true in this case. Bit like Sunset Boulevarde – did you ever see it? Anyway what is still sketchy is what happened to her in the past 30 years but bit by bit the holes are being filled in. Thanks to you, basically.'

And so the mission continues to fill in the missing 30 years. Stay tuned!

8 Feb 2003: I have written to Sabrina three times over a few months, care of Fiona Wingett at the Mail on Sunday , but have received no reply, even though I included self-addressed pre-paid international envelopes. Oh well....

20 April 2003 : Sabrina called!

Source: ' Mail on Sunday ', September 1, 2002
by Fiona Wingett and Peter Sheridan

Read Sabrina's 2003 exclusive Sabrina Site responses to this article

See the Mail On Sunday's apology printed in 2005

Back to Sabrina's home page

Page added 1 Sep 2002.

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