No matter how many times The Beatles' story is told, it never gets old. You find yourself rooting for the band every step along the way. Lending a new voice to The Beatles' story is Freda Kelly, The Beatles' secretary. She was there from the beginning until the end and beyond. Helping tell her story is Jessica Lawson, co-producer of the film Good Ol' Freda. Jessica Lawson talked with us about the film and Freda Kelly.
Q - Jessica, I thought I knew all the names of the people surrounding The Beatles. I never heard of Freda Kelly. How did you hear of her?
A - The director is the one who initially made the connection. He had known Freda for years because of his work with Billy Kingsley of
The Merseybeats. He's American, but he's back and forth to Liverpool to see Billy and his family. Billy is good friends with Freda and he's been since teenage Liverpool days. So, he met Freda a bunch of times over the years at weddings and Christmases and parties, but never knew about her past. She really is that private. He knew of her, but not what she had done. With the birth of her grandson, she decided that it was time to tell her story. She has been offered book deals and films over the years but had always turned it down because she was a very private person. With the birth of her grandson she said she was living on borrowed time and wouldn't be around to tell him about her past. She decided she wanted to make the film. That was in 2011. We finished and premiered in March, 2013.
Q - What is your involvement in the film?
A - I am the producer. There are three producers. In terms of this documentary it's a very small staff. We just basically have three other people that have been involved. We all do whatever it takes to get this film made and out there. But I am a producer. But I've also been handling publicity.
Q - Freda said in the film she wouldn't be telling everything she knows. They're entitled to part of their life that people really shouldn't invade. If she won't tell, will Mark Lewisohn reveal anything in his new book, Tune In?
A - Freda is very excited to read that book. She's already referring to it as The Bible. Ten years in the making, it's incredibly thorough. She sat down with him for part of the book, her part of the interview. I think she has her own part, but I think she contributed to different stories over the years. Because of the regard that book is held, I don't think it's going to be any sort of dirt, tell-all. I think there will be some of the darker times in there. I don't know how much he's going to dive into that. What I think it's going to be is incredibly detailed and incredibly accurate, basically everything there is to know in terms of The Beatles. I don't know honestly if that will include the dirt or not.
Q - Freda was hired by Brian Epstein, correct?
A - Correct.
Q - Did Brian Epstein ever tell Freda why early on he thought The Beatles would be bigger than Elvis?
A - She didn't necessarily say what made him... I don't even think she'd be able to put her finger on it herself either. She said the very first time she saw them at The Cavern, which was a lunchtime session and she was 16, she came over from her office in the typing pool, she said, "I'm coming tomorrow." She knew there was something special about them. I would think that Brian would be the same case. She saw them play 190 times at The Cavern. She was an ardent fan. She went back again and again and again. That said, she would say she had no idea what fame could become for them, how big, how powerful and how influential of a band they would be.
Q - Does Freda know why Pete Best was out and Ringo was in?
A - She would always spin it in a positive and say Ringo was a great fit, his personality. He was fun and loved joking around and dancing. His personality was a really great fit. Also, she thinks he was an excellent drummer. I don't know that she would necessarily answer with an exact reason. She would say Ringo was a great addition and make the group whole.
Q - Did you learn anything from Freda Kelly that you didn't know before? Are you a Beatles fan?
A - I'm a big Beatles fan, but I'm no Beatles expert. So, I learned a lot. I've always been a fan of their music. I wasn't a part of their time. I wasn't there to follow along with it. I've read extensively about it since I became involved with the project. I learned a lot and I think a lot of people did and that's what's interesting. What makes this story so special is, part of the reason you've never heard of her is that she never spoke to the press. Back in the day when Eppy (Brian Epstein) would say "There's an interviewer coming in, can you answer a couple of questions?", she would do it begrudgingly. She never liked the spotlight. Since then she's turned down offers for interviews. In her mind she's moved on to another job, to a different time in her life. She was just done with that job. What she's been able to do is harmonize them (The Beatles). A lot of her stories are the very early days when they were still young and growing in Liverpool. She talks a lot about them as young men and their families. I think there's no better authority on all four Beatles' families than Freda. She used to go over to their houses, particularly the Starkey's. She went to the Starkey's house once a week to spend the evening with Ringo's mom and then she went over to the Harrison's. She went dancing with them. She went to see Aunt Mimi once a month, perhaps more frequently, to work with her. She and uncle Jim, Paul's dad, would go out. That's something a lot of people said they learned more about, the personalities of the families and what they were like. And there's not much coverage in general of that.
Q - How does Freda like her new found fame?
A - She said it's like re-living her youth in a way and that part she really enjoys because basically she remains a Beatles fan.