As an avid fan of the 1980s TV series Fame, Sue Hinds became pen pals with one of its stars, acted out her own episodes with friends and dreamed of a career backstage before joining Merseyside police. She tells Fergus Morgan about reuniting the cast for a series of concerts
Sue Hinds is living her childhood dream. As a teenager in the early 1980s, she would avidly watch the American TV series Fame in the flat above her parents’ fish and chip shop in Liverpool. Today, she is good friends with members of the show’s cast, and is producing their first UK concerts in more than three decades, in aid of Claire House Children’s Hospice.
“I’m loving every minute of it,” she says. “Me and my friends used to write scripts for the show, and act it out above the chippie. Who would have thought that I’d be doing it with the real cast 35 years later?”
Fame, which followed the lives of students and staff at a fictional performing arts school in New York, was a film first in 1980 and then a TV series, eventually running for six series between 1982 and 1987. It was a hit, particularly in the UK, and spin-off concert tours and albums also proved wildly popular.
“We’ve moved on now, obviously, but back then it was quite ahead of its time,” says Hinds of the show’s success. “It was the first time we saw characters of different backgrounds, ethnicities and classes all mixing together, and there was always a moral at the end of it. The characters were quite good role models. They were all just trying to be the best they could be, and I suppose we identified with that as kids.”
Hinds even struck up a pen-pal friendship with one of the cast. As a 12-year-old, she wrote a fan letter to Valerie Landsburg, who played Doris Schwartz, and the pair have stayed in contact ever since. “She is a really important friend to me,” says Hinds. “I think the world of her.”
‘As I was approaching 30, I thought: ‘Maybe I’ve got to give up on this, maybe I need a plan B.’ So I joined the police, and that’s where I’ve been for 17 years’ – Sue Hinds
Hinds herself wanted to pursue a career in performing arts, but behind the curtain, rather than in front of it. Her life, though, took her in a different direction.
“I would have loved to act and sing, but I can’t do either and I’m quite self-conscious,” she says. “I wanted to do behind-the-scenes stuff mostly. At heart, I always wanted to do television production and direction, but I didn’t really have the right qualifications or relevant experience.”
She continues: “As I was approaching 30, I thought: ‘Maybe I’ve got to give up on this, maybe I need a plan B.’ So I joined the police, and that’s where I’ve been for 17 years.”
After six years in uniform, Hinds became a detective with Merseyside Police. She specialises in child exploitation. It is, she says, a job with “quite a lot of risk”.
“It’s the only thing I could imagine myself doing, apart from working in television,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to investigate and catch bad people. It can be quite difficult, quite challenging, but it’s rewarding when you get results.”
Social media allowed Fame fans like Hinds to connect with each other. Facebook groups led to meet-ups, and it was one such meet-up at a Fame reunion concert in Italy in 2015 that kicked off the journey Hinds has been on ever since.
“We were all saying: ‘You need to come to the UK,’” she says. “So I went away with the idea. ‘Don’t just stand there and wait for someone else to do it,’ I thought. ‘You do it.’”
The first task was getting enough of the show’s cast on board to make it viable, which Hinds achieved with the help of pen-pal Landsburg. Eight eventually signed up: Landsburg, plus Erica Gimpel, Lee Curreri, Carlo Imperato, PR Paul, Cynthia Gibb, Nia Peeples and Jesse Borrego.
Hinds’ next challenge was finding a suitable venue and dates that worked for everyone. She aimed high, and secured the 1,350-seat auditorium in the M&S Bank Arena (formerly the Echo Arena) in Liverpool for two nights on May 5 and 6.
“I couldn’t do it on my own,” says Hinds. “So I reached out to a few fans that I knew, asking them if they’d like to help. People came back to me saying: ‘I’m an event planner’ or ‘I work in marketing’ or ‘I’m a musician and we’ve got a band’, so I’ve managed to staff it pretty much with volunteers who are big Fame fans, but who have gone on to work professionally in relevant roles.”
“It’s so helpful,” she adds. “I would just be in the dark without them.”
A convention is scheduled to run alongside Hinds’ concerts. The Fame UK Family Experience is the first event of its kind in the UK and will feature a disco, cast Q&As, special guests and a documentary screening. Events will take place at the M&S Bank Arena throughout the day, ahead of the evening shows.
“It’s going to take the format of a concert,” says Hinds of the shows. “We have dancers from Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and dancers and backing singers from Liverpool Media Academy. The cast members are rehearsing separately in America, and it will all come together when they arrive in the UK.”
The entire event is raising money for Claire House Children’s Hospice, and Hinds is confident that she will be donating a substantial amount. “It’s hard to tell, because I still get the occasional bill I haven’t budgeted for,” she says. “But if we sell out, I’m hoping it will be at least £10,000.”