Saturday, December 31, 2016

Stubs - Good Ol' Freda

Good Ol’ Freda (2013) Starring Freda Kelly. Director: Ryan White. Written by Jessica Lawson, Ryan White.Produced by Kathy McCabe Ryan White, Jessica Lawson. Run Time: 86 minutes. United Kingdom/USA Documentary

Loyalty thy name is Freda Kelly. As the personal secretary to Brian Epstein and as the head of the Beatles fan club, Freda knows a lot of dirt about the Fab Four, but she is not one to spill it. Rather, one of the few close associates not to have written a book, Freda gives away no real secrets in this crowd-funded documentary.

The title is taken from the 1963 fan club Christmas recording The Beatles recorded annually. Over the years, these recordings became more elaborate, but on the first one, they were much more casual and low key with the group sitting around a microphone speaking off-the-cuff and singing traditional carols like "Good King Wenceslas" and not so traditional ones like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Ringo." When it was George’s turn to speak, he wanted to thank the Beatles Fan Club and Freda Kelly in particular, to which the other three yell “Good Ol’ Freda!”

A native of Dublin Ireland, Freda moved to Liverpool with her family in the early 1960s. After quitting school at the age of 16, Freda worked as a typist in a corporate typing pool. One lunch, two men took her to the Cavern Club, where she heard The Beatles, then a local band, play for the first time. She became a fan and continued to make the lunchtime trek to the Cavern, where she admits to having seen the group play nearly 200 times.

The Beatles were still in leather jackets and still had
 Pete Best as their drummer when  Freda first saw them play.

Due to the casualness of the environs, Kelly was able to get to know the band on a friendly basis, even spending time in the band’s room at the club along with other fans. On occasion, members of the band might give her a ride home, much to her father’s displeasure. He didn’t like the scruffy looks of the band, then still attired in leather jackets. Kelly got involved early in the group’s fan club, taking over running it when its founder lost interest.

At these lunchtime concerts, she also made the acquaintance of Brian Epstein, the son of the owner of the NEMS department store and a fellow fan of the band. Seeing their potential, Epstein would sign the band to manage and hired Kelly to be his secretary but never quit running the Fan Club.

With the group’s growing popularity, Kelly put some organization to the Club, even using her own home address as the club’s. Letters began to flow in, quickly becoming sacks of mail, which Freda attempted to not only answer but fan’s requests come true. As an example, she once had Ringo sleep on a pillowcase sent in by a fan.

Freda with Ringo.

Not only was she close to the band members, she also became close to their families, becoming like a daughter to Ringo’s mother, Elsie Starkey. So close in fact that when there was a reception at Liverpool City Hall for the band, the Starkeys had her invited as if she was one of their own. Angie McCartney, Paul’s stepmother, also appears in the film, speaking highly of Freda.

Freda also began to write a column in The Beatles Monthly, a fan magazine, a publication that would outlast the group by a couple of years, before it was decided to shut down the fan club in 1972 when Freda left on her own to spend more time with her husband and children.
While some of what she wrote in her Beatles Monthly column was gossip, Freda is very mum about the boys’ personal lives and, as an example, if she ever dated one of them in the early days. This is not a tell-all documentary.

Freda with Paul. There were once false rumors that they had wed.

The focus is squarely on Freda, who since leaving the Beatles’ employ has continued to work as a secretary, never talking openly about her previous position. She only agreed to the documentary after the birth of her grandson, wanting him to know that Grandma once did something extraordinary. There are interviews in her home as well as field trips to some of the famous locations around Liverpool where the Beatles performed or were honored.

As far as time-frame is concerned, like most Beatles documentaries, the emphasis is on the early days. Freda recounts how the members of the band would frequently come into Epstein’s offices at NEMS and how she would get them to sign autographs on the spot or backstage at shows.

When Epstein moved Beatles operations to London, Freda was not able to go, since her father forbade it. They kept her on in Liverpool and she would make frequent trips to London, but her daily contact would end. After Epstein’s death in 1967, she would continue on with the group, even appearing as one of the passengers in their first post-Epstein project, Magical Mystery Tour.

Freda between John and George during the filming of Magical Mystery Tour.

There is very little information discussed regarding the Apple years, but she apparently carried on with the fan club until 1972, when it was dissolved. She would continue to answer mail for the next three years on her own time. Also, there is no mention of the other bands that Epstein managed, even though none were ever as big. There are interviews with members of The Merseybeats, a band that played in the Cavern when the Beatles did and apparently still performs today, but no mention if they were also represented by NEMS or not.

Freda with George near the end of her 11-year employment.

For someone who spent 11 years with The Beatles, she has very little memorabilia, just four boxes that she keeps in the attic, having, she said, given the rest away to Beatles fans. She admits to always having been one herself so she could empathize with other fans' wants and desires. Freda never seemed to forget that she was in a special position. When she discovered one member of her then staff was trying to pass off someone else's hair as Paul's, she fired everyone since she didn't know who she could still trust.

Even as the Beatles were breaking up, Freda was still working for them.

While of the two surviving members only Ringo appears in the documentary, and even then only during the credits sequence, the Beatles are apparently squarely behind it, allowing archival footage as well as several of their own songs to be used; quite a feat for a documentary with a budget of about $60,000.

Freda Kelly, as she was when the documentary was
made; one of the unsung heroes of  Beatlemania.

Good Ol’ Freda shines the light on one of the unsung heroes of Beatlemania. No doubt there were other typists infatuated by the group when it played lunchtime concerts at the Cavern, but things might have been very different if it weren’t for dedicated people like Freda Kelly helping to shape their image. One more ingredient in the formula that made The Beatles the biggest act in the world.

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