When Freda Kelly was a teenager in Liverpool, she began working for a local band that she knew was going to be famous one day.
That band was the Beatles.
For 11 years, Kelly was the Fab Four’s secretary and ran the band’s official fan club. And, for decades after, she didn’t talk about her experience with the band. In fact, she said, she didn’t even list it on her resume; she just wrote that she worked in the music industry.
But now, Kelly is the subject of “Good Ol’ Freda,” a documentary by Ryan White that premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, in 2013 and is now playing in theaters and festivals around the world. The AMP by Strathmore will screen the film at 8 p.m. June 25 and WAMU’s Ally Schweitzer will host a Q&A with Kelly after the screening.
Kelly, now 70, said over the years, people would occasionally ask her to do something documenting her time with the Beatles, and she’d always say no. But after her grandson Niall, now 6, was born, Kelly—with a little cajoling from her daughter—said she decided to do something to share her memories with Niall. She said she thought White, who was a friend’s nephew, would create a DVD similar to a home movie.
“To me, it’s just a little story,” she said.
But what Kelly, who is still a secretary, thought was just a little story evolved into a film that has been featured in festivals and screened around the world for the last three years. The film features four Beatles songs — “I Saw Her Standing There,” “I Will,” “I Feel Fine” and “Love Me Do”—which is a rarity in film and television. Kelly said she thinks that’s one of the documentary’s draws.
“I’m still stunned by the reaction [to the film],” she said. “I can’t get my head around it. Someone said to me…the lifetime of a DVD is about nine months. I’m in my third year.”
In the documentary, Kelly recalls her time with the Beatles, beginning with their early days before they became famous. She discovered the band while working in her first job as a secretary when a co-worker invited her to lunch at the Cavern Club, a Liverpool nightclub where the Beatles played. After that, she rarely missed a show.
A fellow fan asked Kelly to help run a fan club and Kelly agreed, even continuing after the founder lost interest. As a result, she got to know Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, who asked her to become his secretary. She took on the role and also continued to run the fan club, which eventually officially moved under Epstein, but was still managed by Kelly after truckloads of fan mail began coming to Kelly’s house; she had used her own address as the club’s mailing address.
Kelly thinks it’s good that she was a Beatles fan since she was running the club. She knew what fans wanted, she said, because she knew what she would want. “If I could do the request the person wanted, I would do it,” she said. For instance, she got a pillowcase signed by Ringo, who she calls Ritchie, and with the help of his mother—during her time with the Beatles, she formed relationships with their family members—she even got him to sleep on it first.
Some of the fan requests she got were silly, she said—“Will you come to my sister’s wedding?” “Will you come to my 21st birthday?”— and some fans took extreme measures to try to meet their idols. Fans would occasionally find their way to the club headquarters, Kelly said, and one girl who ran away from home and hitchhiked to the office to meet the Beatles even lived with Kelly for two weeks until Kelly was able to track down a family member and put her on a train home.
“A lot of people didn’t take these girls seriously but I did,” Kelly said in the film. “Because, you know, I was one of them. I was a fan myself, so I knew where they were coming from.”
Her dedication didn’t go unappreciated. On the Beatles’ 1963 Christmas record, George Harrison thanked “Freda Kelly in Liverpool,” and the other three bandmates shouted “Good ol’ Freda!,” which subsequently became the documentary’s title.
Kelly said she looks back on her time fondly, and she has enjoyed traveling to screenings and meeting fellow Beatles fans, who she called “one big happy family.” And she is happy with how the documentary turned out.
“I’m glad that it’s now down on record, just to let people know how they started, how good they were in the beginning,” Kelly said.
A Night With Good Ol’ Freda will be held 8 p.m. June 25 at AMP by Strathmore. Doors open 90 minutes prior to the event. Tickets are $25 to $45. For more information and to buy tickets, go to https://www.ampbystrathmore.com/live-shows/good-ol-freda. To learn more about the documentary, go to http://goodolfreda.com/.