SXSW: Meet the Beatles' Secretary
Freda Kelly was a secretary who worked for The Beatles from 1962 until 1971, which is just a little longer than the band was actually together. Hired by Beatles manager Brian Epstein when she was just seventeen Freda performed office duties, took over the band’s fan club, and was a thoughtful liaison between management and the Fab Four’s own families. Freda remained loyal to the group in the decades since her employment -- staying silent, never selling out or airing dirty laundry -- and always respecting the personal privacy of the celebrated band.
Now, finally, comes Good Ol’ Freda, a thoughtful documentary by director Ryan White chronicling her tenure with the world-famous group. Happily, Freda’s good standing with the band was recently reaffirmed when Ryan was granted unprecedented use of four original Beatles songs in his low-budget film. Clearly, Freda was touched by this affirmative gesture. “That was amazing,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “To be quite truthful I felt positive but also negative. I’m usually quite cautious and didn’t know which way that was going to swing. I got a lump in my throat when I found out and I’m not an emotional person.”
After agreeing to attend the film’s world premiere on March 9 in Austin, Texas as part of South By Southwest, Freda is also starting to realize the larger impact of her decision to share her special story. “All this is just starting to hit home with me,” Freda confessed. “I’ve always played things low-key and I’m now getting adjusted to it. I suppose my side of things should go down in history, for Beatle fans.”
Adds White: "It's a snapshot in time to an era that doesn't exist anymore -- no one knew what was going to happen with Beatlemania. There were no predecessors like that, especially from Liverpool."
But in bearing witness to the history of the band’s amazing accomplishments like performing for The Queen, the Magical Mystery Tour and all other manifestations of Beatlemania, Freda feels that the late Epstein’s role as band manager has been consistently underestimated. “A lot of people don’t give Brian the credit that he deserved,” she insists. “It’s all right in hindsight to say he should have done this or that, but hello -- look at the whole thing! We were all at a learning stage back then and I think there should be lot more respect for Brian Epstein.”
Back in the day, Freda was an especially thoughtful coordinator of The Beatles fan club, answering the multitude of queries and sending back bits of clothing or a lock of hair to devoted fans. Freda’s only mistake was providing her home address as the fan club’s HQ, which caused her father quite a bit of consternation when huge bags of fan mail began to arrive every day.
"She would go over the Beatles' houses and bring sacks and sacks of fan mail and make them sign it while they were watching television," White elaborates. "Or she'd take a pillowcase over to Ringo's house and make him sleep on it and sign it ... Things like that just don't happen anymore."
At the height of Beatlemania, the burning question, “Who’s your favorite Beatle?” was on everyone’s lips. For Freda, her feelings changed all the time but her response remained consistent. “Boys and girls would ask me and my answer was always that it would depend on what week it was. I would fancy one of them on a given week and then change [to another] the next. Deep down, I fancied all four of them. I’m not an individual fan -- I am a Beatle fan.”
She is not alone.