By Alan L. Chrisman
I just saw a documentary on Freda Kelly, The Beatles’ secretary and who was in charge of their official fan club. The film is named “Good Ol’ Freda” after a shout-out The Beatles’ make about her in their 1962 Xmas’ message.
I thought it would be interesting, as she was one of the few who were there at their very beginnings. And it is, as she relates many everyday stories about them. She worked with them for 11 years, from 1961 on. She had been working in a typing pool and was a regular at The Cavern. Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, approached the seventeen-year-old to come help him deal with the growing workload at his NEMS Liverpool record store and help with his new band, The Beatles.
Besides her regular office work for Brian, a lot of her duties consisted of answering the, at first, a few letters a day to later thousands in big mailbags, from their increasing numbers of fans. Out of that grew her starting their first official Beatles’ Fan Club and newsletter and Beatles’ Monthly Magazine. She saw The Beatles’ often as they would drop in to Epstein’s office and got to know each well. They would have cups of tea and autograph the rising pile of fan letters requesting signed photos, snippets of hair and clothing. Freda also often had to go around and visit the Beatles’ homes after her already long hours at work to get them to sign more photos or papers, and she got to know all their families well. Ringo’s mom, she became especially close to, as her own mother had died when she was only 18 months old and was raised by a father, who saw no future in her working for a pop group.
All these stories and descriptions of The Beatles and the people around them are fascinating enough, but what really makes the film is Freda herself. She’s a very interesting person. While many others around the Beatles have exploited their connections to them, she never did. She calls herself a very private person and always wanted to respect their privacy too. She had even told little of her Beatles’ involvement to her own family and friends. She had given away most of the leftover Fan Club photos, magazines, etc. to fans with whom she identified and felt committed to, as she had been originally just a fan herself. At one point in the film, she goes into her attic and rummages through the last few boxes of Beatles’ material she has kept. She still feels a fierce loyalty to them and their story. After The Beatles broke up in 1970, she got another job as a private secretary and she is still working and living in Liverpool. She only agreed to tell her story (for the one and only time, she says) when her daughter finally persuaded her and for her grandchild, when approached by the filmmaker nephew of another Liverpool friend and band at the time, The Merseybeats. That’s the kind of person, Freda Kelly is, still not anxious to tell secrets on her old friends and bosses.
I, as I’ve said, have been fortunate to meet several people who knew The Beatles. I’ve written about several of these and my experiences of such, as well as a series of recent tributes to Neil Aspinall, Tony Sheridan, and Cynthia Lennon (who passed away, Apr. 1st). Some have written books, appeared at Beatles’ Conventions, and been in documentaries. The Beatles are, of course, Rock Royalty now, but some behind -the scenes people, like Freda Kelly, haven’t gotten much recognition. Few around them became became rich or famous. Some have even preferred to remain mainly private: Astrid Kirchherr (who created their “look”), Bob Wooler (Cavern DJ), Tony Sheridan). I have found very interesting stories about The Beatles through theirs and others’ eyes and stories like Pete Shotten’s (Quarrymen and Lennon’s childhood friend), Derek Taylor and Tony Barrow Beatles’ publicists), etc. But as Freda Kelly breaks down near the end of the film and says, not many of them are still here anymore. What struck me about most, if not all, the people whom I met who knew The Beatles’ at their beginnings, is their reverence for The Beatles and what they experienced. That and their remarkable down–to-earthness, which must reflect their often Liverpool humble roots. Freda Kelly comes across like you could just drop in for a cup of tea, as she often had with The Beatles.
BELOW:Trailor for film, “Good Ol’ Freda”:
Complete film Dvd available at: