Serious Beatles fans know who Brian Epstein was. But unless you were a member of the Fab Four's fan club, or have read extensively about the band, you probably couldn't identify Freda Kelly -- even though she was a member of the group's inner circle for 11 years and long outlasted its first manager.
Kelly quit school at age 16 and joined a typing pool. A short time later she was taken to Liverpool, England's Cavern to see The Beatles, where she became an instant fan and went on to see them there almost 200 times. It wasn't long before she was asked to become the head of the band's fan club, making her the envy of young women worldwide.
But she was content to remain in the background, avoid the spotlight and stay loyal to the the four band members and its manager, Epstein. She didn't succumb to bribe offers from newspapers looking for inside scoops back in the day, didn't cash in by writing a tell-all book after the break-up, and didn't fatten her bank account by selling all of her valuable Beatles memorabilia. She gave most of it to fans in 1974 and now keeps just a few boxes of items near and dear to her in her attic.
Kelly also turned down film offers in the past, but finally took up an offer from director Ryan White. He had an inside track since his uncle was a friend of Kelly's as a member of Beatles contemporaries The Merseybeats, and she wanted to leave something for her grandson to know about the exciting life she led in the 1960s.
The resulting documentary, Good Ol' Freda, had its international premiere last week at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival. The film's title comes from George Harrison giving Kelly a shout-out in The Beatles' 1963 Christmas message, and it features interviews with Billy Kinsley from The Merseybeats, members of The Fourmost, Beatles press officer Tony Barrow and Paul McCartney's stepmother Angie, among others.
But it's Kelly's warmth, modesty and honesty that make her the true star of the show -- outshining even Ringo Starr's appearance where he sings her praises during the closing credits.
Kelly isn't one to kiss and tell, as she says. But while she says she never dated any of The Beatles, there's a hint that something might have gone on with at least one of them since she said she had a crush on each one of them at various times. She says that McCartney was the nicest, Lennon was a "man of many moods," Harrison didn't come across as "the quiet Beatle" with her and that original drummer Pete Best was shy and handsome.
But after Starr replaced Best behind the kit, Kelly would visit his mother Elsie once a week and they became good friends. In fact, it was Elsie who persuaded Epstein to give Kelly a raise. Harrison's father taught Kelly how to ballroom dance and she became the link with The Beatles' family members in Liverpool when the band was touring. She says she felt like she was a member of all the families.
But all good things must come to an end and, even though The Beatles had split up a couple of years earlier, she kept her position as the band's secretary at Apple Records until 1972 -- by which time she was married with a son and had a daughter on the way and wasn't having the fun she used to -- when she heeded Harrison's advice and wound The Beatles fan club down. But, ever devoted, she answered fan club letters on her own time for the next three years.
As proof that Kelly never profited much from the Beatles' phenomenal success, she still works as a secretary in a law office -- and remains a dedicated Beatles fan.
Even though several books and films have been made about The Beatles, Good Ol' Freda manages to offer some fresh insights into the band and, perhaps more importantly, introduces viewers to a sweet woman who just might end up with a fan club of her own.