Review: Kelly finally opens up about working for the Beatles
Ryan Summerlin February 18, 2014
It’s been more than 40 years since Paul McCartney left the Beatles in 1970, marking the official breakup of the most popular rock ’n’ roll band in the world. Since then, countless stories have been told in print, television and film about the four lads from Liverpool.
Just when it seemed there couldn’t be anything new left to tell about The Beatles, the one lone voice left from The Beatles’ inner circle has stepped forward to reveal her story in the documentary, “Good ol’ Freda,” directed by Ryan White and distributed by Magnolia Entertainment.
Freda Kelly was The Beatles’ secretary from 1961 to 1972 and ran the immensely popular Beatles Fan Club, meticulously answering as many letters as possible while trying to grant every request — some reasonable, some not so — received.
It’s easy to believe her words after realizing how long she’s kept The Beatles’ secrets and personal information to herself. She resisted going public while nearly everyone else did, proving her loyalty and devotion to her job long after she gave her official notice to quit in 1972.
“Freda never pushed herself,” said Tony Barrow, The Beatles’ former press officer. “She never wrote a book or agreed to do interviews. She led a very confidential existence.”
Since leaving her job with The Beatles, Kelly took another secretary job that she still works at. In the 40-plus years since then, she hasn’t revealed her past to anyone, including her own children.
Kelly tells her stories for the first time publicly, and they are, as she says, the only time she’ll tell them. She’s got to be one of the last individuals to share about her time within the inner circle of The Beatles, giving the low-budget documentary an exclusive voice.
Kelly takes viewers inside the Beatles Fan Club and relates many stories about her encounters with the Fab Four. Viewers hoping for ground-breaking news or inside dirt likely will be disappointed, but on the other end, those hoping to hear some new stories about The Beatles’ personalities and details that fill in much of their 10-year timeline will be enthralled.
Director Ryan White kept the filming simple and easy to watch, mixing interviews with Kelly to images of the Beatles that White gained access to by getting the blessing of Apple Records, as well as from the limited memorabilia Kelly kept of the band.
White’s clever zooming and panning of stills, combined with an impressive soundtrack, give the film some stunning visual moments. There are some very early videos of The Beatles performing before 1963, and even though there’s no soundtrack to go with them, White’s timing of visuals with commentary is outstanding.
The movie soundtrack includes a sampling of the biggest names from the early 1960s, such as Fats Domino, The Isley Brothers, Buddy Holly, Little Richard and more, incorporating many of the songs The Beatles would cover also.
White garnered permission to use four Beatles original songs in the movie: “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Love Me Do,” “I Feel Fine” and “I Will,” adding another layer of legitimacy to the images White matched them with, on top of sounding incredibly rich and full.
When “I Feel Fine” plays during the movie, White fills the screen with visuals of fans adoring their heroes. It’s a touching sequence that surely will bring the excitement of Beatlemania rushing back to many memories.
Viewers watch the fan club grow from several hundred members to thousands, as the letters seem unending. Even more astounding is how determined Kelly is to answer every letter and send autographs, bits of The Beatles’ hair, parts of their clothing and other outrageous requests to the fans.
Kelly was far more than a secretary for the Beatles. She was the connection between the hordes of Beatles enthusiasts and the Fab Four. She was, in hindsight, the perfect person for the job.
First and foremost, as she says many times, she was a fan of The Beatles before she was their secretary. That relationship allowed her a personal understanding and the ability to relate to the thousands of “Beatle People” that set new levels of fan obsession.
Early in the movie, she confesses to seeing The Beatles nearly 200 times at the Cavern Club in Liverpool before Brian Epstein, who was about to become The Beatles’ manager, hired her.
Kelly tells the story of Epstein hiring her more than 50 years ago like it happened yesterday, bringing up the day of the week, the club they were at when he made the job offer and the street it was on. Her memory is keen as she brings up details that Beatles fans will eat up.
“It was at St. Barnabas Hall on Penny Lane,” Kelly said. “Eppy (Epstein) was going to sign The Beatles and asked me if I wanted to work for them. I remember saying, ‘Oh, go on, then.’ … I was 17 at the time. It was my dream job.”
Kelly’s deep blue eyes, dimples, shiny, dark-brown bob or pageboy hairstyles and genuine smile make her easy to watch and listen to. Her thick, musical British accent and use of ’60s slang like “posh,” “keen” and “gear” are as authentic as the stories she shares.
As the movie progresses, viewers can see how Kelly was more like a Beatles family member than an employee. Her relationship with the Beatles’ family members reinforces the trust bestowed upon her. She becomes the liaison between family and Beatles as they take the road, as well as develops close friendships with all four families.
One of the documentary highlights comes midway through the movie where Beatlemania really starts in Liverpool. It’s July 10, 1964, and The Beatles are about to be honored during a civic reception at City Hall. The lads already have made appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and just returned from several weeks performing in Australia and New Zealand.
Only The Beatles’ families were invited to the reception. After a private dinner, The Beatles are led out onto the City Hall balcony. It’s at that point that Kelly says it hits her just how popular the local boys have become.
“As soon as they opened the balcony doors, the screams and shouts were deafening,” Kelly says. “Girls were fainting — it was chaos in the streets. There were thousands of people as far as the eye could see.”
Several times in the movie, White tries to get Kelly to open up about her relationships with The Beatles and how intimate they might have been, but it is apparent there’s a line that Kelly will never cross concerning confidentiality.
“Oh, there’s stories there,” she says with a devilish smile. “But I don’t want anyone’s hair falling out or turning curly. That’s personal.”
She also could have been a very wealthy woman if she would have sold her Beatles memorabilia, but she reveals that she gave most of it away — for free — to Beatles fans in 1974.
During the last 15 minutes of the movie, you learn that Kelly agreed to make the documentary for her late son, Timothy, and her grandson, Niall. She admits her son asked her several times about her past, but Kelly refused to go into any detail.
“I didn’t do this while Timothy was alive,” she said. “But after he passed away and Niall was born, I definitely wanted to do this now. I want my grandson to be proud of me and the exciting life I had in the ’60s.”
Even at the end of The Beatles’ career as a band, Kelly continues to write back to fans and puts out a monthly newsletter. It took her three years to answer all the fan letters after the band broke up.
Her devotion to The Beatles remains unwavering.
“Millions of girls round the world wanted this dream job,” said Angie McCartney, Paul’s stepmother. “She epitomized all their dreams and all their hopes. All these girls wanted to be Freda Kelly and to be that close to The Beatles. This is one of the last true stories of The Beatles that you’ll ever really hear.”