By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on September 21, 2013)
There hasn’t exactly been a dearth of documentaries over the years delving into the public and private lives of John, Paul, George and Ringo, nor could I say with a straight face that there has been a severe lack of painstakingly annotated critical analysis regarding their music, album by album, song by song, lyric by lyric…and as an unapologetic Beatle freak, God (as a thing or whatever it is) knows that I’ve seen ’em all. Filmmakers have taken every tack, from cheap, breathless tell-all sensationalism to sober, chin-stroking dissertation about the Mixolydian constructs of “Norwegian Wood”. However, jaded as I am, I’ve never seen a Beatles doc as touching, unpretentious and utterly charming as Ryan White’s interestingly entitled Good Ol’ Freda.
The unlikely star of this study is an unassuming, affable sixty-something Liverpudlian named Freda Kelly. At the tender age of 17, she was hired by manager Brian Epstein to do odd jobs around the office while he focused on the fledgling career of his young proteges. A year or so later, she became the chief overseer for the band’s fan club, embarking on what was to turn into an amazing 11 year career as (for wont of a better job description) the Beatles’ “personal secretary”, from Cavern Club days to the dissolution of the band.
What makes Freda unique among the Beatles’ inner circle (aside that she remains a virtual unknown to the public at large) is her stalwart loyalty to this day in protecting the privacy of her employers; she’s never written a “tell-all” book, nor cashed in on her association with the most famous musical act of all time in any shape or form.
Granted, after appearing in this film, she won’t be unknown, but she makes it clear this is her finally caving in to say her piece (since we’re all so damn nosy and insistent), then she’ll be done with it. And she does tell some tales; although none of them are “out of school”, as they say. That’s okay, because she is so effervescent and down-to-earth that watching the film is like having Freda over for tea to peruse scrapbooks and enjoy a chat about times that were at once innocent, hopeful and imbued with the fleeting exuberance of youth. You could do worse with 90 minutes of your time.