At this late date, you might think it impossible for anyone to find a fresh angle on the Beatles’ story, but director Ryan White has done just that with the new documentary Good Ol’ Freda. The title refers to Freda Kelly, who served as the band’s secretary and fan club president from their early Ringo-less days at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, through the height of Beatlemania and the Magical Mystery Tour that followed, to the bitter end and beyond in the early 1970s.
In the beginning, Kelly was just a Beatles fan—one of the first, in fact. She was working in a secretarial pool when some friends took her to lunch at the Cavern Club, where the nascent Fab Four were performing their regular gig. (And who knew the Beatles played at lunchtime?) She went back to see them almost 200 times, befriending the band members and, eventually, their new manager Brian Epstein. She started out answering letters from Beatles fans (naively giving out her home address, much to her father’s chagrin), fielding requests for autographs and more intimate items, like slept-on pillowcases, and soon gained the trust of Epstein, who relied on Freda to keep the Beatles’ secrets. She took her responsibilities seriously, once firing her entire administrative staff when she found out one girl had passed off her sister’s hair as authentic Beatle tresses.
Her loyalty continues to this day, as there are no shocking revelations in Good Ol’ Freda, except maybe for the fact that Freda is still working for a living while hoarding an attic full of artifacts that could net her a comfortable retirement on eBay. (Seriously, can’t Paul McCartney just give this woman a million pounds? What’s it to him?) What makes White’s film a delight is Freda herself, a charming storyteller who managed to retain her anonymity and down-to-earth grace while in the midst of the biggest pop culture circus of the Sixties.