Good Ol’ Freda

On their goofy five-minute Christmas flexi-disk recorded for fan club members in 1963, the Beatles pause in the midst of reflecting on the really gear year just ending to offer a shout-out to their fan club secretary Freda Kelly. “Good ol’ Freda!” they chorus.

A half-century later, the former Miss Kelly is a 68-year-old grandmother who works as a secretary at a respectable law firm. But as we see in Ryan White’s engaging new documentary, she’s still every bit the Good Ol’ Freda of old.

Kelly was a 16-year-old typist in Liverpool when she first encountered the pre-moptop (and pre-Ringo) Beatles at the legendary Cavern Club, and quickly became one of the scruffy quartet’s biggest fans. She also became their friend, hanging with the boys at the club and ringing them up at home to suggest special songs be included in their next set to commemorate some other fan’s upcoming birthday. By the time Brian Epstein became their manager and their career began its steady skyrocket, Freda was the natural choice to run the group’s official fan club – a more than full-time gig that ballooned to nightmarish proportions during the 11 years she worked for the Fab Four.

The scenes in which Kelly describes hauling stacks of photos, autograph books and even the odd pillowcase to the Beatles’ homes for them to sign – not to mention tracking down hair clippings from the guys’ barber and cutting their old shirts into souvenirs – demonstrate how above-and-beyond was her devotion to making the fans happy. (Of course, she explains, “I was a fan, too.”) Her reminiscences and those of other players on the old Liverpool scene make clear her ferocious loyalty to the Beatles as both music stars and personal friends.

In fact, one of the documentary’s chief contributions to Beatles history lies in its first-hand depiction of the Four as hometown boys. The pride of the Liverpudlians for their famous sons’ success is well documented, but it’s Kelly’s fond anecdotes of relative trivia such as her frequent visits with Ringo’s mom, Paul’s dad taking her under his wing for horizon-broadening visits to pubs and restaurants, and being given regular rides home from the office by George that show how very small and homey their early ‘60s world was.

It’s a charming portrait, made even more so by Kelly’s own prodigious charm. She was clearly a genuine sweetheart during her decade with the Beatles, and half a century later, she still is. It’s touching to watch her continue to respect her boys’ privacy after all these years, pleasantly but firmly drawing a line between happy memories and tawdry gossip. Beneath her self-deprecating good humor one can occasionally detect a flash of the steely pride that earned fan club workers their pink slips when they were caught cutting corners (such as trying to pass off their own hair for genuine Beatles souvenir clippings)…and which once forced John Lennon to drop to his knee and beg her forgiveness after firing her in a fit of pique.

The documentary originated as a private recording, a way for Kelly to pass along her memories to her young grandson. Director Ryan White, filmmaker and son of a family friend, had agreed to interview her on camera as a favor, but soon realized that he’d stumbled onto something far bigger than a simple family history. Eventually convincing Kelly to take an unexpected step into the spotlight, he began to weave old photos, rare film footage and additional interviews into the mix. The result is a sweet and winning slice of pop culture history as seen through the eyes of a woman who grew up and worked alongside four of the most famous men in the world.

Other Beatles histories have more to offer in terms of concert footage or backstage scandal, but this simple documentary is one of the few that brings its famous subjects to life in such quiet, intimate terms…thanks to the affectionate memories and delightful presence of good ol’ Freda.

December 9, 2013 · Posted in Now Playing  


Leave a Reply