Another solid offering from this year's Maryland Film Festival.
When she was 17 years old, Freda Kelly took a job as a secretary—and that job made her the most envied girl on the planet.
You see, her bosses went by the names John, Paul, George, and Ringo (“Richie” to her). Okay, technically, she worked for Beatles manager Brian Epstein (“Eppie”), but she hung out with the lads all the time—her crushes rotating based on who was nice to her on a given day.
Good Ol’ Freda tells the story of this smart, sensible, capable girl from Liverpool—a Beatles fan, but not an overly breathless one—who got a front-row seat to Beatlemania. A dedicated, protective employee, she ran the Beatles fan club—which included writing their newsletter and handling their sacks and sacks of mail (featuring all sorts of arcane requests for locks of hair and pillowcases that Ringo slept on)—like a tight ship.
Good Ol’ Freda also gives us a somewhat priceless glimpse at the Beatles when they were first starting out—just a bunch of fun-loving, wide-eyed blokes from Liverpool, prone to clowning around Freda’s desk, with no idea of what was in store for them.
In a world where it seems that everyone who came into even the slightest contact with the Fab Four has tried to cash in on their name, Freda has never exploited her ties to the band. (This documentary is really her first time discussing her past at any length.) She gave away most of her priceless collector’s items to fans (for whom she felt an eternal solidarity) and kept just a few tucked away in her attic. Even some close friends and family have no idea she was once the “good ol’ Freda” referenced in a Beatles Christmas recording.
If there’s one complaint I have with the film it’s this: I appreciate that Freda’s tact and reserve is what made her so indispensable to the Beatles. But at times, I wish that filmmaker Ryan White had told us a little more about her life. (There is mention of an ex-husband as well as a son who died tragically —but no further explanation.) To the film’s credit, we’ve come to care about Freda—even separate from the Beatles—and we want to know more.
We do, however, know this: Now in her 60s, Freda is still working as secretary in Liverpool. She no longer gets requests for her bosses’ locks of hair.