DVD Review: Good Ol’ Freda

I can’t heap enough praise upon this delightful little film. A quick backstory: from the very early Cavern days, and through the fractious early 1970s Apple era, Liverpudlian Freda Kelly was in close orbit of The Beatles. First (and for its entire existence) as head of their official fan club, then as Brian Epstein‘s secretary at NEMS, and then at Apple, Kelly was one of the group’s inner circle. This film takes a look at her whirlwind life and career for a decade beginning around 1963.

Why, you might well ask, are you just now hearing about Kelly? The answer has everything to do with her reluctance to speak on the record about those days, and about her basic humanity and decency. True, she earns an entry in Bill Harry‘s Beatles Encyclopedia, but until this film, she’s never discussed her days with The Beatles.

Kelly has loads of stories to tell, no doubt, but now in her late 60s, she’s not willing to tell the juiciest of them. “That’s personal,” she smiles mischievously when asked if she ever dated any of “the boys.” What she is wiling to share, however, are personal reminiscences on topics about which even the hardest of hardcore Beatlemaniacs know precious little. She tells us what it was like working for Epstein (temper tantrums), seeing the Beatles in their pre-fame Cavern days (more than 180 shows, by her count), and –most fascinatingly – personal memories of the Beatles’ parents. Seems Kelly was especially close with Ringo Starr‘s mum and George Harrison‘s parents, all of whom understandably considered (and treated) her as one of the family.

A few other members of the Beatles’ circle comment onscreen – members of The Fourmost, press secretary Tony Barrow, Paul McCartney’s stepmother and a handful of others – but it’s mostly Kelly’s show. Beatle fans will recognize many (but not all!) of the photos shown onscreen, but they may only realize for the first time who the demurely smiling girl in the pictures is. It’s good ol’ Freda Kelly, on hand during filming of Magical Mystery Tour, at press galas and premieres, and so forth.

Throughout it all, Kelly kept a grounded approach to her dealings with the most famous band in the world. She was extraordinarily successful at her job for two reasons. First, she knew John Lennon, Paul, George, Ringo (and even Pete Best) as human beings rather than international music and culture icons: Paul often gave her rides home, and she made weekly tea time visits to Ringo’s mum’s home. Second, she was in fact a fan of them and their music, so she never took a scoffing, superior attitude toward mail requests for snatches of George’s hair, Paul’s shirt, or Ringo’s pillowcase. Perhaps most surprising of and charming of all is her insistence upon authenticity: no machine-signed autographs went out from our Freda. Her humanity is on constant display, and viewers of a sentimental bent should not be surprised if they find their eyes a bit wet during the DVD’s hour and a half run time.

Loyal perhaps to a fault, Freda Kelly passed up numerous opportunities to profit (intangibly, monetarily or otherwise) from her close Beatles association. All she has today are her memories and a small treasure trove (four boxes’ worth) of old photos and Beatles Monthly back issues. Those she shares with viewers in this warm and intimate portrait. For anyone whose interest in The Beatles extends beyond the music itself, Good Ol’ Freda is absolutely essential viewing.