Fame in its current state is synonymous with entitlement and misbehavior; teenage stars are the product of calibrated marketing, not of an organic development based on their talent. Their fans -young people who follow the current trends and then forget about them- are a commodity for their management, not an investment that will be loyal to their artist for years to come. In an era in which One Direction and Justin Bieber dominate the airwaves, the way the biggest rock band in the history of the world was managed for more than 10 years, seems next to impossible.
Funded through the Kickstart crowd-funding platform, Ryan White’s feature documentary Good Ol’ Freda is not only about Freda Kelly, The Beatles’ secretary, but also about the honest and wholehearted operation she was part of. Imagine writing a letter from across the Atlantic Ocean to The Beatles’ fan club in Liverpool during the ’60s and requesting an autograph and a strand of Paul McCartney’s hair, and then a couple weeks later receiving just that in the mail as a response. That was Freda Kelly’s job, to make fans happy and to treat them like a family, a family that had a shared devotion for their music and everything involving the four young superstars.
Yet, in the midst of all this, what strikes even more surprising is the fact that her story has been kept secret all these years. Kelly never tried to bank on her incredible experience, she has never written a book of all the stories she knows, she hasn’t been on talk shows promoting herself and looking to become a celebrity; even if people with much less to their name have. That’s what makes her story invaluable and utterly engaging, because it is one full of respect and loyalty towards the band and their families. To her, this is not the story of a band she worked for, but a story of her friends that for more than a decade were her family as well.
As a young girl in Liverpool, Freda Kelly used to visit a popular pub known as The Cavern, in which many of the up-and-coming bands of the city used to play, The Beatles included. Freda became a fixture at the venue, she could be seen talking to the different members of the band and enjoying the music during her lunch break from work. She became at once their friend and admirer, and eventually took over the small Beatles’ fan club started by another girl. Soon after she was hired by the manager, Brain Epstein. to run their fan club at their offices at NEMS. Despite Epstein’s known mood swings, Freda was immune to his anger, probably because of her charm and outstanding commitment to her job.
What started as a few letters became thousands a day as the band’s popularity increased over the years. Freda and her team would reply to fan letters using preset questions an answers about the band in most cases. Nonetheless, one of her guiding principles was to never forge an autograph and to try to comply with as many of the fans’ request as humanly possible.
Throughout her time with the band, from their inception to their separation soon after Epstein’s death, she carried out her duties with love and admiration for the band, never once betraying them or their fans, as she always considered herself a fan girl who got really lucky. Although it will prove not deeply engaging for anyone not versed in Beatle-history, which includes most people, the documentary feels honest even if it doesn’t always work as feature piece.
Final Verdict: Leading a normal life after the band’s separation, it seems as if Freda Kelly relives her story through the documentary, a story that she rarely shares with anyone, even her family. Undoubtedly, one of the most amazing first hand accounts of what it meant to be part of that world, to be in the middle of such immense fame and still remain true to her values. White’s film doesn’t feature the living Beatles themselves, it doesn’t delve into the obscure events always associate with the band, but rather focuses on the vibrant light Freda Kelly was to them and how she kept a family of fans together across continents and over a decade. It testifies of a woman who never sold out her friends, or her integrity for a moment of fame.