Listen, do you want to know a secret?
If you did, you wouldn’t have any luck asking Beatles secretary Freda Kelly… her lips were sealed tighter than Ringo’s drum skins. That is, until Magnolia Pictures produced Good Ol’ Freda (2013). The documentary is the first to capture the story of Ms. Kelly, who worked alongside the Beatles for eleven years after initially managing their fan club. She was a veteran at their early Cavern shows, even before Ringo had joined the group.
Freda was plucked from her typing pool, and brought to the Cavern Club by two co-workers to see the Beatles perform a luncheon show. The band played 292 shows there, from 1961 to 1963, and Freda wound up attending approximately 190 of them. She developed sympathy for the girls who packed the venue and screamed for the lads, because she was one of them at heart.
Good Ol’ Freda is told through interviews with Freda, Beatle press officer Tony Barrow, members of local bands, stepmom Angie McCartney, and members of the Beatles themselves. Freda became a confidante of the group and their families; that you may just be hearing of her for the first time only speaks to her discretion and loyalty. Freda never fell victim to the axiom of ‘All You Need Is Cash’, and the tabloids were devoid of salacious quotes emanating from the perch of her desk.
From the throng of girls who would have loved to work for the Beatles, Freda was chosen. Freda would work in the offices located above the record store, answering fan mail until sometimes four in the morning.As The Beatles gained traction, Freda remained committed. “Love Me Do” charted at number 17. The Beatles played The Empire, Liverpool’s grandest venue, on the bill with Little Richard. Freda and her father literally had to dig through 800 letters per day, just to find the gas and electricity bills.
From the documentary, it is touching to learn about The Beatles involvement with their fans. The group would meet with Epstein and sign a multitude of autograph books that Freda had waiting for them. Freda had Ringo, who she calls ‘Ritchie,’ sleep on a pillowcase for one lovelorn fan. Hair locks would be scooped up and saved for requests from fans to be filled. Detailed answers to letters would be painstakingly written, with Freda acting as the group’s intermediary. The charming firsthand accounts humanize the greatest band in rock history.
‘Good Ol’ Freda’ is a gem for the Beatle-faithful. The stories are not second-hand retreads, and they are given an un-jaded charm when told by the lovely Freda. A lot more is opened than the 40-year-old boxes of memorabilia, stored untouched in Freda’s attic. As ‘Ritchie’ reminds us at the end of the film, Freda was essentially a member of their family. So pour a cup of tea, hit play, and enjoy the DVD.
-Written by Bob Wilson
L4LM Interview with Good Ol’ Freda Producer Kathy McCabe
L4LM: I understand from Freda wanting to leave a legacy for her grandchildren about her experiences with the Beatles. How did she settle upon your project to do so?
KM: Freda has been approached so many times over the past 20-30 years about doing a book but she always turned down the offers. She never wanted to write a book or wasn’t ready to share her ‘little tales’ in any format. She never sold out for money or fame so those stories stayed locked in her ‘memory box’ until she was ready. (There are many stories she’ll never share because she’s extremely private and believes The Beatles are entitled to their privacy as well.)
The catalyst for everything was the birth of her only grandchild, Niall, who will be four years old in Spring 2014. Her love for her grandchild and her desire for him to know what she did in the 60′s were the driving force. I’ve known Freda for a long time and had encouraged her to do a few private talks in the US to gauge interest in her stories and the reaction was phenomenal. That reaction gave her to confidence to accept an offer to appear at The Fest For Beatles Fans in New Jersey a few years ago and Beatles fans were floored by her integrity and dedication.
I had worked with Good Ol’ Freda Director Ryan White on his film ‘Pelada’ and approached him about doing a documentary about Freda. Miraculously he was free during the same time period Freda decided she’d like to do a ‘little DVD’ of her stories for her family. It didn’t take long for that little DVD to turn into a full-blown documentary.
L4LM: Was Ryan White’s relation in the Merseybeats a crucial link to get Freda?
KM: Oh yes, it was a critical link. Ryan had met Freda many times over the years at family gatherings at The Kinsley’s but he had no idea she was The Beatles secretary. Even after he found out, he had no idea of the important role she played for The Beatles, Brian Epstein, The Beatles families, and fans. He was blown away when he heard the full story and we talked to Freda about doing the film. There was a level of trust from the beginning because we were all family and friends….without this level of trust I don’t think the film would have gotten made.
L4LM: Since Freda kept the secrets for so long and passes on such paydays, it seems the Beatles could have in some way demonstrated their gratitude in some way that paid off financially for her over the years. It seems she wouldn’t ask, or maybe accept it. -Any thoughts on this?
KM: Freda gets asked this question fairly often and scoffs at the thought The Beatles should have supported her financially over the years. She says she had a job so many other people wanted and she received a wage for it! Back in those days, there weren’t pension plans and golden parachutes so when she stopped working for The Beatles, it was over in her mind. She raised her family and went on to a new career when her children grew up. She had no expectations then or now of getting financial support from The Beatles.
L4LM: What was the reaction when you got the “okay” to use 4 Beatles songs for the project? How did you choose the ones you used?
KM: Our negotiations to get permission to license Beatles songs took about 1 1/2 – 2 years and permission came through in late January 2013…..just a little over a month before our world premiere at the South x Southwest Film Festival on March 9, 2013. We were sweating it because if we hadn’t gotten permission, we would have had to change around the entire soundtrack in a big hurry. When the permission to license was granted, we still faced the licensing procedural work and it came down to the wire. Luckily, once The Beatles songs came through, the other songs we were in the midst of licensing came in too. Aside from the four Beatles songs, we managed to get a killer soundtrack of songs that The Beatles loved and covered themselves in their early days.
Our reaction was pure joy, astonishment; disbelief that we actually pulled this off…..once again it’s a true testament to the regard in which The Beatles hold Freda. We’ve been told we are the first independent film to be granted this extremely rare permission and we are grateful to everyone involved for making this happen.
Believe it or not, we had our choice of the entire Beatles catalogue…..any four songs we wanted. Plus we also were able to license the very first Beatles Fan Club Christmas record in which George Harrison thanks their secretary Freda Kelly and the other Beatles shout out ‘Good Ol’ Freda’ in the background. That’s where the name of the film came from of course. The one caveat was the songs had to fit the script and tone of the film and we chose ‘I Saw Her Standing There,’ ‘I Feel Fine,’ ‘Love Me Do,’ and ‘I Will’ because they fit perfectly with Freda’s stories. We would have been ecstatic to get even one Beatles song so to have our choice of four was truly amazing.
L4LM: Did Freda feel Eppy committed suicide, or died accidentally?
KM: Freda believes strongly that Eppy’s death was accidental. He was very close to his Mum, Queenie Epstein….and his father had died just a month earlier leaving her devastated.. Freda’s view is that there is no way he would have purposely created another devastating loss for her on the heels of his father’s death.
L4LM: How was Ringo approached for his cameo?
KM: We approached Ringo through his office. We had hoped to do a short interview with him and even dreamed of having Ringo and Freda sit down together!!! He ended up recording the video on his own….using his own words and his own videographer! We were delighted he took the time to do it and it’s such a lovely from-the-heart tribute to Freda. People who see the film are always surprised when Ringo appears at the beginning of the credits and his voice stops them in their tracks as they’re heading out of the theater!
L4LM: Is Freda in touch with Paul or Ringo today?
KM: She’s still in touch with Ringo’s family in Liverpool but she hasn’t actually seen Ringo for several years. He’s done a couple concerts in Liverpool over the past decade and she went to both. She was invited to the private party for the first show but didn’t even go backstage for the second show several years later! She hasn’t been in touch with Paul but did see Paul’s show in Tokyo Japan in November 2013 and also sees Paul’s brother Michael regularly at events in Liverpool.