Freda Kelly was the the secretary to Brian Epstein and The Beatles and the president of the official fan club all throughout the history of the band, and started with them when she was 17 years old. She was there from the earliest club performances in the Liverpool underground – literally in the case of The Cavern – through and even beyond the breakup. Aside from Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr themselves, there’s probably no one living who has more insider info and stories about those heady days than Kelly. And she’s never cashed in on that trusted relationship, nor broken confidences in 50 years. It’s that kind of integrity and trustworthiness, along with hundreds of rare Beatles photos and a soundtrack that features several Fab Four tunes that buoys Good Ol’ Freda from the opening frame.
There’s really nothing that Kelly, now a grandmother in her late ’60s, ever tells you that you wouldn’t believe. Because if she were going to try to get rich off of her relationship with the greatest band in history, common sense would dictate that she’d already have done it. Instead, she’s been a working secretary her entire adult life and the one member of the Beatles inner circle aside from family that never left Liverpool. Although she’s never talked in depth about working for the Beatles until now, now that she has, it’s easy to discern the pride that she had in her position and her friendship with the Four and Epstein. Her stories come easily and make for a good listen as you peruse the mountain of old photos, many of which contain her in some of the Beatles’ most storied moments.
Kelly’s story began in Liverpool circa 1961 where, as a secretary, she used to catch Beatles performances in a club underneath the Liverpool streets called the Cavern. Eventually, she took over the fan club and came to work for Brian Epstein, who had just become the Beatles’ manager. Her stories from that very early time are those of a wide-eyed teenage girl, innocent in most everything. However, the position forced her to grow up very quickly as she tells it. Her time was spent answering Beatles mail that steadily grew from a few hundred to tens of thousands per year. She was there to see all of the history of the developing supergroup, even as she came to be both friend and confidant to the young men who were speeding toward destiny. She relates in one story that she put up a picture of the Beatles at her old job next to those the likes of Elvis and Cliff Richard. When her boss asked her of whom the picture was, she told him the Beatles. He remarked that he hadn’t heard of them and that her reply was that “you will one day.”
Other stories include her getting to know the parents of the Fab Four well, especially Ringo’s mother, Elsie, with whom she became especially close. And as she puts it, the Beatles came to think of her as their sister and their parents of her as family. Be that as it may, things weren’t always wine and roses between her and the group. Another story she tells is of John, unhappy upon learning that she had spent time in the dressing room of the Moody Blues, fired her on the spot. When she asked if the other three wanted to fire her, and they said no, she stood up to John and told him that she would stay on to see to the needs of the other three members, but not him. And that only a fulfilled demand of John getting down on one knee to beg her to stay resolved the situation. Of course, when asked if she ever dated any of the lads, she reverts to the privacy she’s kept for decades. Not that there aren’t stories to tell there, but that she doesn’t want “anyone’s hair to fall out.” It’s many tales of the like that pepper the documentary and paint a picture of the relationship that was one of the closest to the group.
The doc never uses modern advents of morphing the old photos, adding animation or 3D depth of field to them as other docs do, and that’s simply because the pictures of an extremely young and candid Fab Four are engaging by themselves. Bits of archival audio of Kelly back in the days of her employ add to her thoughts given now. There are also commentaries from friends, which include Paul McCartney’s step-mother, and acquaintances of Kelly, as well as her daughter. But really, the doc floats easily on her own personal testimony, which never comes across as insincere, fantastic nor playing to the camera. Kelly is simply charming and believable, which is ironic since her preference all these years since the breakup of the Beatles was to keep her story to herself. She also never profited from memorabilia, having given away much of the Beatles items back around 1974 to fans. She only has some scrapbooks of her duration with the group, tucked away in attic boxes.
The real reason that Kelly states she’s telling her story now is that she wants her grandson from her daughter to know it. She intimates that her son, Timothy, who died a few years ago, really never got to know that part of her life and she didn’t want that for her grandson. It’s fortunate for us that she finally made that decision, because there’s real music history that’s covered here and told by someone as close to the situation as there could be. Director Ryan White (Pelada), puts together a fine doc, but really only has to keep the camera and mic on Kelly and keep the pictures flowing to accompany her. Kelly does the rest, pleasantly and appealingly. It’s like listening to the grandparent you already liked the best and then just discovering they were like a fighter pilot or Cold War assassin or Sinatra’s dead hooker cleaner or something else cool. Hardcore Beatles fans will be thrilled with Good Ol’ Freda especially; and even those who may have only enjoyed a tune here or there can learn from a firsthand source.
Good Ol’ Freda features the following soundtrack and is available on On Demand / iTunes and in theatres on September 6:
- Arthur Alexander – Anna
- The Beatles – I Saw Her Standing There
- Ketty Lester – Love Letters
- The Isley Brothers – Twist and Shout
- The Beatles – Love Me Do
- Fats Domino – I’m Ready
- Buddy Holly – Words of Love
- The Drifters – Some Kind of Wonderful
- The Marvelettes – Please Mr. Postman
- The Beatles – I Feel Fine
- The Shirelles – Boys
- The Cookies – Chains
- Carl Perkins – Honey Don’t
- Little Richard – Long Tall Sally
- The Beatles – I Will
Out of a Possible 5 Stars