Lovely Freda Responds Discreetly

The Beatles' longtime secretary takes center stage

Lovely Freda Responds Discreetly

Lovely Freda was (and still is) Freda Kelly, the Liverpudlian secretary who took a job when she was just a teenager, in 1962, answering fan mail for the four Liverpudlians whose new band was on fire at the local club scene. Of course, we know the story of the Fab Four and while – after 11 years with them – Freda certainly knew more than any of us, she never told. She was much too loyal and discreet for that. And besides, she felt, she'd always been "just a secretary," and "who would want to hear the secretary's story?" Fifty years later, Freda decided that her grandson really ought to know grand-mum's (no pun intended) story, so she approached filmmaker Ryan White (Pelada, 2010), whom she knew through his local relatives, about making this film.

"We both agreed from day one that this wouldn't be about scandalous stories or an attempt to make money, but instead be 100 percent the truth and a story that is faithful to Freda's high standard of ethics," says White. And that it is. When asked on camera, for example, whether she dated any of her employers, Freda recoils with an irrepressible, still-girlish, "That's p-e-h-sonal!" Charming, self-effacing, and guileless, Freda is definitely the star of the show. What we get is an inside look at the best advocate screaming fans worldwide could have asked for. Say you dreamed of possessing a pillowcase that Ringo had actually slept on. No problem. Freda would walk that pillowcase over to Ringo's house and come back for it the next morning. Just the kind of girl she was.

Austin Chronicle: Going into this, did you think the film would be more about the Beatles or more about Freda? Was getting the right balance difficult?

Ryan White: That's a really interesting question. If I'm being honest, I think originally I thought this would be "the Beatles story through the eyes of their secretary." And then Freda and I spent weeks and weeks doing interviews in her living room, and her strong character blew me away. Her ability to remember stories and deliver them with humor and charm and genuine emotion was incredible. So I realized almost immediately that this wasn't just a story about the four Beatles, but a story of a remarkable girl – she began when she was 16 – and then woman who played her own important role in music history. The interviews with others only cemented that. The main players who were around at the time have amazing things to say about Freda and the role that she played.

Lovely Freda Responds Discreetly

AC: What must your music budget have been for the rights to all those Beatles songs?

RW: Our budget has been almost nonexistent. My team has been incredible – almost everyone has worked for free, and many of those people actually put their own money into the film, too. We're very passionate about getting Freda's story out there. That being said, we're very lucky Apple Corps made an extremely rare exception to allow Beatles music to be used in a movie. I'm not at liberty to discuss prices, but let's just say we are very thankful to Apple that they were willing to work with our very small, very independent documentary. And then the fact that the Beatles were willing to work with us gave us instant credibility – which is why we were able to line up a killer soundtrack including other artists like Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino. It's all a testament to Freda that these record labels have been willing to take my phone calls and hear me out. 

Good Ol' Freda

Documentary Spotlight, World Premiere

Saturday, March 9, 5pm, Vimeo

Tuesday, March 12, 9:15pm, Topfer

Saturday, March 16, 4pm, Stateside

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at For scheduling on the go, here's a SXSW Film Pocket Guide, which includes the handy Film Grid. Sign up for our South-by-specific newsletter at for news, reviews, and previews delivered to your inbox every day of the Fest. And for the latest Tweets, follow @ChronSXSW.

More Good Ol' Freda
SXSW 2013 Film Reviews: Good Ol' Freda
Daily reviews and interviews

Jordan Smith, March 15, 2013

More by Anne S. Lewis
The Past Casts a Long Shadow
The Past Casts a Long Shadow
History is now at this year's Austin Polish Film Festival

Oct. 23, 2015

SXSW Film Review: <i>Best of Enemies</i>
SXSW: Best of Enemies
Hugely fun doc about Buckley and Vidal's infamous debates

March 20, 2015


Good Ol' Freda, Freda Kelly, Fab Four, Ryan White, Pelada

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)