The name Freda Kelly is probably a name one recognised by die hard Beatles fans. From the early 1960s through the band’s dissolution in 1970, Kelly served as the Beatles’ fan-club secretary. Fifty years later, she’s finally telling her story with the documentary Good Ol’ Freda.
Freda Kelly was just a shy Liverpudlian teenager when she was asked to work for a local band hoping to make it big. Though she had no concept of how far they would go, Freda had faith in The Beatles from the beginning, and The Beatles had faith in her.
History notes that The Beatles were together for 10 years, but Freda worked for them for 11. Many people came in and out of the band’s circle as they grew to international stardom, but Freda remained a staple because of her unfaltering loyalty and dedication. As the Beatles’ devoted secretary and friend, Freda was there as history unfolded; she was witness to the evolution – advances and setbacks, breakthroughs and challenges – of the greatest band in history.
”When my grandson came along, I decided I wanted to do something,” Kelly told HuffPost Entertainment why she decided to make this documentary “Because over the years, I haven’t done anything at all. I had actually six offers to do books, but I managed to shake them off. I sort of said, ‘Oh, too many books out there [about The Beatles].’ My grandson was the push I needed.” She stated
The result is a time capsule about Kelly and her journey as secretary of the Beatles from American filmmaker Ryan White. “We thought it might be just a little record for her family. Literally a DVD,” White said of the film’s early days. “I didn’t know what it meant that she was the secretary of the Beatles. I had no sense about the importance of her role or length of her role or what other people were going to say about her — which we didn’t even do until our second shoot in Liverpool. So, I didn’t know how great of a story it was. I don’t think Freda knew how much people were going to respond to it.”
Using archive footage, present-day interviews and rare photographs, along with four Beatles songs and a clip from the band’s Christmas album, Kelly is shown as a key member of the Beatles’ inner circle. Not that she’d ever say that herself. Kelly, now in her late 60’s, modestly joked about not announcing to everyone who would listen that she was the secretary for the Beatles stating that “You’ll get locked up!” for making such outrageous proclamations in public.
As fan-club secretary, Kelly was responsible for handling the band’s fan mail and the odd requests (locks of hair) that often accompanied the correspondences. (In the early days, Kelly used her home address, which caused a flood of hundreds of letters to show up at her door.) She was also present for some of the band’s biggest moments, like the Beatles’ 1964 appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
As Good Ol’ Freda shows, Kelly was loyal to John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, and still is to this day. In the film, she refuses to talk about the group’s personal lives, beyond how it related to her work.
"I wanted it that way. It’s not a Beatles story. It’s my story," Kelly said. "I’m not being big-headed or anything. I wanted my story for my grandson. I didn’t want it all Beatles or anything."
Good Ol’ Freda is one of few documentaries with the support of Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and featuring original Beatles music. White selected songs that related to specific events in Kelly’s story. “My editor and I had many long conversations about this and we eventually decided to pick the best songs that fit tonally or lyrics wise or substance,” he said. “‘Love Me Do’ was chosen for substance, because she had a story related to it. ‘I Feel Fine’ and ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ were more tonal, and we wanted to end the film with ‘I Will.’” The film offers an insider perspective on the beloved band that changed the world of music.
Kelly said she’s still a big Beatles fan, and was one even after working with the band for over a decade, through thick and thin. “I didn’t shy away,” Kelly said when asked if she stopped listening to The Beatles after they broke up. “Like, ‘Well, because I left them I’m not going to listen to the new Paul McCartney song or George’s stuff?’ I went out and bought it.”
Her attitude extends to her decade spent as fan-club secretary as well. “There wasn’t a time when I thought, ‘Oh, God, why didn’t I go work in a shop,’” she said. “I do remember a lack of sleep. Definitely. I never got into work until 10. I would be there until 9 o’clock the night before. One of the guys where I worked used to say, ‘Freda doesn’t come in until the streets are well aired.’ I love that line.”
Good Ol’ Freda is out in Los Angeles now and arrives in New York theaters on Friday. The film is also available via on-demand services.