Sabrina—Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe


Sabrina on the set of ‘Blue Murder at St Trinians’ being sketched by Ronald Searle

Found in the Peter Haining Archive a small file on the now forgotten fifties British glamour model Sabrina, who in 1936 was born in Stockport as Norma Sykes. The nature of some of the contents of the file, which includes three large glossy prints of the scantily clad model in various provocative poses, suggests that Haining was one of the thousands of young ( and not so young) men who had fantasised about the bosomy blonde in her heyday, when she was compared to Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. His curiosity may have prompted either by research for a possible book on Arthur Askey, in whose TV shows she had appeared, or by another clipping in the Archive—-a double-page spread in The Mail on Sunday for September 1st 2002.

In this article Sabrina, who following her unsuccessful bid for Hollywood stardom had settled for a life of leisure as the wife of a wealthy LA gynaecologist, only to lose most of it following her divorce, was tracked down by reporters to a seedy corner of Beverley Hills : 

‘Sabrina rarely ventures out of her two-bedroom Spanish-style house in a street nicknames ‘Smog Central’ at the intersections of three ten-lane motorways and right under the flight path of Los Angeles’s Burbank Airport. 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 plastered walls are cracked and bare, leaving electrical wires dangerously exposed’

In contrast to the glamour girl who had once beamed her smile from the TV screen, movie screen, newspapers and magazines, her neighbours described an ‘ irascible old woman ‘ who rarely answered her door to callers, was in constant pain from an operation, and spent most of her time in a wheelchair.

According to Askey, Sabrina ‘could not act, sing, dance, or even walk properly’. But her 41-inch bust got her a regular slot on the comic’s TV show, where she simply stood speechless and smiled. She also landed tiny parts in comedy films until she shot to fame as the silent Virginia in ‘Blue Murder at St Trinians’ in 1959, which was also the year in which she was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters by Leeds University.

Ironically, having ditched her stage name for the many years that she was out of showbusiness, she has now reclaimed it in old age, and letters to her are marked for ‘Sabrina’. This year she celebrates her eightieth birthday. [R.M.Healey]

Sabrina photo 001


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