Film Review: Good Ol’ Freda (UK & USA, 2013)

good-ol-freda-650-430-austin-hargrave

When people think of John, Paul, George and Ringo, a name that doesn’t immediately spring to mind is Freda Kelly. But this humble, Liverpudlian woman was the group’s secretary; manager, Brian Epstein’s assistant; and the head of their fan club for 11 years. Good Ol’ Freda is a quaint little documentary about an inspiring woman who had one of the most coveted jobs in the world, when Beatlemania was at its peak.

In 1961 the then typist and 17 year old, Freda Kelly would be introduced to the Cavern Club, a place that smelled of “Disinfectant, rotten fruit, and sweat”. It was here that she’d get her first glimpse of The Beatles (who were playing with then drummer, Pete Best). They wore leather and were a far cry from the crooners and Cliff Richards of the day. From there, Kelly would go on to watch hundreds of their gigs and befriend the band. Some members would even drive her home plus she had a regular vantage point in the Cavern and would often sit backstage talking in the band room. She would eventually accept a job offer from Mr Epstein, even though this role displeased her father.

It was not long before The Beatles hit the big time and this naive girl was forced to grow up overnight. There were some mistakes along the way, like when she gave out her own home address for the fan club and received thousands of letters. But Kelly would remain a mainstay and survive Epstein’s temperamental nature, as she was a no-nonsense woman who got things done.

Kelly once asked Ringo Starr to sleep on a pillowcase a fan had sent in. She would also get autographs of the boys for the fans whenever she could and even sent out clippings of their hair and old shirts because she understood what it was like to be so devoted to the group. She was The Beatles’ friend and even became a virtual member of their individual families, going so far as to visit Ringo Starr’s mother, Elsie Starkey at the latter’s home at 10 Admiral Grove.

Freda Kelly is naturally a rather private person and this documentary directed by Ryan White (Pelada) is one of the few occasions she has every spoken publicly about the band. There has never been a tell-all memoir and in this film she does not rake over old muck or even reveal if she went out with any of the group’s members or not. The details of her own life are also rather scant. We learn of an ex-husband but not of their divorce and of two children (one of whom died young in circumstances that were not described).

Good Ol’ Freda is not the most comprehensive, contemporary or informative story about The Beatles. But it is entertaining, engrossing and colourful. Over the course of 86 minutes Kelly shares many wonderful anecdotes about these funny lads and really comes across as a warm, endearing and dependable woman. It’s a true testament to her that four original Beatle songs were licenced by the elusive Apple and Ringo Starr even takes some time out to send a sweet message to Kelly and her grandson Niall during the closing credits. This movie was made so that Niall would one day know about Kelly’s achievements as a young woman.

The documentary contains lots of archive footage and recordings, including The Beatles’ 1963 Christmas message plus old concert and interview footage. There are lots of never-before-seen photographs and there are many stories that have been as yet untold (something that is practically unheard of when you consider that the Beatle phenomenon must have been mined from every possible angle). The film is presented from Kelly’s point-of-view and is almost like sitting down for a cuppa and a biscuit with her save for the additional interviews with: Beatle publicist, Tony Barrow; Kelly’s daughter, Rachel Norris; Joey Bower (Fourmost); Billy Kinsley (The Merseybeats); fan club assistant, Julie Underwood; and Paul McCartney’s stepmother, Angie McCartney.

Good Ol’ Freda is an exciting, fun and feel-good film about The Beatles’ secretary’s magic carpet ride as the then tiny group from Liverpool conquered the world. This documentary is rich in sweet, nostalgic memories from a heady, halcyon time. Ultimately, this is a rich story about a loyal, devoted and admirable woman who ran a tight ship, achieved great things and above all, never sold out.

Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Good Ol’ Freda screened as part of STUDIO Loves: The Beatles on the Foxtel channel STUDIO.