Dave Carlock: Biopic on Beatles’ secretary celebrates her integrity

Published 9:02 am Friday, September 13, 2013

This week, I saw a fantastic new independent film called Good Ol’ Freda. It takes a look behind the scenes of the Beatles’ careers through the eyes of the band’s secretary, Freda Kelly. Hired on when she was only 17, she worked for the Beatles for 11 years, actually outlasting the band’s 10-year existence. Her story is perhaps one of the most human tales of Beatles career perspectives out there and I couldn’t help but identify with her, given my various experiences as the “guy behind the guy” throughout my career as an engineer/producer.
While working as a typist in Liverpool, she was invited to join co-workers at a lunchtime show at the dumpy and now legendary Cavern Club. The Beatles had taken up residency there and they were becoming both well known and well attended.
Much like attending a show at St. Joseph’s Czar’s 505, the band was very accessible and it was easy to connect with them there. She made herself known and occasionally would even call Paul at home to request a song at an upcoming show. It’s hard to imagine today, but there was once a time when 19 year-old Paul McCartney’s phone number was listed — and he picked up!
When soon-to-be Beatle manager Brian Epstein began coming around The Cavern, she became friendly with him as well. As things progressed, Epstein asked Freda to come on as secretary. Her response was immediate and she found herself in her dream job before turning 18.
The fascinating thing about this film is its emotional impact. Quickly and easily, I liked her, connected with her story and admired her. Freda’s success in her new dream job came from the fact that she was incredibly protective of the band. She clearly loved them all. Her competence was obvious as she also became the head of the Beatles’ Official Fan Club–a gigantic task once Beatlemania really hit. It was revealed in the film that Freda was quite possibly the only person in the organization that was never fired and/or rehired by Epstein, well known for his tantrums.
Freda’s high level of personal integrity kept ringing out throughout the film, which made her irreplaceable in the minds of Epstein and the band. She respected the privacy of the bands’ personal relationships. When Epstein felt it necessary to keep John Lennon’s marriage a secret to the world, she maintained that secret even when Lennon began dating a friend of hers on the side, a true test for anyone.
In addition to the business family, she was truly part of all of the Beatles’ families as well. Freda was taught to dance proper ballroom dance steps by George Harrison’s father, and Wednesday nights,
Paul’s dad would regularly take her to pubs and restaurants to teach her how to dine and drink properly, preparing the young woman for the new world she found herself in.
Ringo’s mom became a surrogate mother, as Freda’s mother died when she was an infant. Mrs. Starkey once bent Epstein’s ear for a raise for Freda after having a few at a company party, much to Freda’s chagrin. A few weeks later, the raise came through.
Epstein and the band came to value her so much, they refused her resignation when the company needed to relocate to London. Her ailing father didn’t approve of a move to the “city of vice” and though he had no power to stop her, she elected to stay near him for his last years. After Epstein attempted to appeal to her father with little luck, he gave her a Liverpool office to accommodate her.
Perhaps most remarkably, she never told her story for the last 40 years, despite many offers. She had zero interest in profiting from her experiences. She rarely even told her two grown children about her contributions. Following the unexpected death of her eldest son, she came to regret not sharing it with him and felt she should document her experiences so when her 2 year-old grandson is older, he’ll understand the hand she had in rock n roll history. After the screening, Freda’s daughter said she had never been told 95 percent of the film’s stories. Quietly, she kept only three small boxes in an attic of her amazing memories.
Aside from being charming and entertaining, moments in the film were very emotional for me. I had to stop and wonder what it was about this Liverpool secretary’s story that might affect other viewers similarly. I realized that her choices were always about family throughout the film. Most adults wouldn’t admit that they secretly want their children and grandchildren to be proud of them more than anything in the world. In this, Freda and her story manage to connect in a very deep and powerful way. I found myself stunned by the rare beauty of an ordinary person who lived extraordinary experiences and emerged both unaffected and forever changed forever simultaneously.
As an entertainer in the public eye, I find it entirely rare to find someone who loves you for who you are, not what you do. It’s common to see certain women following musician after musician, like replaceable players in an idealized romantic role, but Freda was in it for the people she loved. She didn’t idealize entertainers or the entertainment industry. She never was “in it” to be a hanger-on or “industry person”, the reason she’s still working as a secretary at a mental health law firm today. The Beatles were her family.
What a truly amazing woman. I miss her already.
©2013 27 Sounds, Inc. Dave Carlock is a 26-year veteran of the entertainment business whose work as a recording engineer and producer, touring musician, and songwriter made him Googleable. His continuing work as an Independent Content Creator of Sound and Image has earned him a Grammy Award certificate, two Platinum Record Awards, and a Paragon Award in advertising. Currently, he brings national and international artists to make records and music videos at his production studio in the Benton Harbor Arts District.