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‘Good Ol’ Freda’

by Kaori Shoji

In 1961 Freda Kelly was 16, working in an office in downtown Liverpool. One day, her boss invited her to lunch at The Cavern Club, a venue famed for showcasing local talent, and among them was an enormously popular young band called The Beatles.

In a matter of months, Kelly had become friends with every one of The Beatles, relaying messages from ardent fans (who were often her own friends) to John, Paul, George and Pete Best (Ringo Starr had yet to join the group) and back again. Kelly was known for having a cool head on her shoulders — which allowed her to be a cut above the Liverpool lasses who screamed and writhed and all but prostrated themselves on the Cavern Club floor if it meant getting a wink from their favorite Beatle.

Fast forward some five decades, and 68-year-old Kelly recounts those days and many more in Ryan White’s documentary “Good Ol’ Freda.” From 1961, when The Beatles ripped open the Liverpool music scene, to 1972, when their fan club closed two years after their breakup, Freda worked as their secretary. She took care of their fan mail and fan club; she handled bookings and assisted managerial duties for Brian Epstein, who was the one who’d plucked her off the floor at The Cavern Club and asked her to come on board; she went above and beyond, partly because she believed in being thorough, but mostly because she was a Beatles fan. “I could understand the fans and where they were coming from,” she says. “I was one myself.”

Good Ol' Freda (Itoshi no Freda)
Rating
Director Ryan White
Run Time 86 minutes
Language English

For 11 years, says the documentary, Kelly worked tirelessly to promote and support the Fab Four, pulling off what the British media described as “the most coveted job in England.” The anecdotes and stories are told through her narration — the time when she made John Lennon kneel down and apologize to her in the dressing room. The times when one of the four were always around to take her home after a hard day’s night. The time Ringo Starr introduced her to his fiancée, and later asked her to hold his first-born. The time Paul McCartney made her sit at the front of the bus for the filming of the “Magical Mystery Tour.”

But if you’re expecting any juicy Beatles-related scandal stories coming out from “Good Ol’ Freda,” don’t. What the film makes apparent is the unerring eye Epstein had in assembling his staff. As a secretary and Apple Records employee, Kelly is painted as invaluable. She was then as she is now: an exceptionally loyal and level-headed woman who lives by a personal code of honor.

“I think that everyone’s entitled to their privacy,” she says in the film. “And it was part of my job to see to it that (The Beatles’) privacy was never compromised, not least because of something I said or did.” That she held onto her past for this long, never broadcasting it or capitalizing on it, seems like a movie in itself. (The film explains that the death of her son prompted her to open up.)

The film shows a photo of Kelly, standing between George Harrison and Starr in a field. She’s smiling shyly in a white dress, radiating girlish innocence. “I was a teenager. We were all just teenagers, really,” explains Kelly. The simplicity of her words tells you that maybe a big part of her is still standing there.