Former Beatles secretary tells story of ‘hectic decade,’ attends Docutah monthly screening

ST. GEORGE — The Docutah International Documentary Film Festival has brought a little bit of “Beatlemania” back to the forefront in Southern Utah with their Docutah@TheElectric monthly film screening for February.

The film, “Good Ol’ Freda” chronicles the life of Freda Kelly, former personal secretary to The Beatles and president of their fan club.

Freda Kelly poses with Paul McCartney in this photo, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of DOCUTAH@TheElectric, St. George News

Kelly, along with the films producer, Kathy McCabe, is in St. George for two screenings of the film; one at Tuacahn High School’s Hafen Theater Thursday which is sold out and one at the Bumbleberry Theater in Springdale on Saturday. Tickets are still available for Saturday’s screening.

Kelly doesn’t particularly love the limelight. Her humble personality belies the fact that she spent just over a decade as the secretary and confidant of the band known as the “Fab Four.”

Kelly is originally from Dublin, Ireland, but she moved to England as a teenager, she said. Kelly started working in 1962 as the secretary for Brian Epstein, an English music entrepreneur known best as The Beatles’ manager.

Her role as a confidant in the life of The Beatles was something that just “fell in her lap,” she said.

A woman by the name of Roberta Brown, whom Kelly knew, had started The Beatles’ fan club, Kelly said, but when Brown got engaged she decided she wanted to concentrate on her fiance and not answer the fan mail anymore.

Epstein put Kelly in charge.

“I had no idea what to do,” Kelly said, “so I just learned as I went along and I ended up running the fan club. … Where I thought I’d last a year, I ended up 10 years.”

Looking back, Kelly recalled it as a “hectic decade” she said, but also a wonderful one.

At the height of The Beatles’ popularity the fan club had 40,000 people in it, Kelly said at a private function Wednesday evening.

It is, in part, thanks to one Beatles fan that Kelly’s story is now a widely successful documentary.

Kathy McCabe is a self-described Beatles fan and the producer of “Good Ol’ Freda.” As a young teenager and Beatles fanatic, McCabe said the popular thing to do was get a pen pal from Liverpool, England.

Watch the “Good Ol’ Freda” Trailer

Click play play-arrow above

Through a series of family and friend connections with her pen pal, McCabe eventually befriended Kelly but not before being warned to never ask Kelly questions about The Beatles. Being too nosy about the super group was a sure fire way to have Kelly write you off, McCabe said.

It wasn’t until 20 years later that Kelly opened up about the decade she spent with The Beatles.

Kelly said after her time with the group, she moved to a small village where nobody really knew who she was and got on with her life.

Though many of her friends and family members encouraged Kelly to write a book or memorialize her stories in some form or another it was when she was asked to record her memories for her grandson that she finally consented, Kelly said.

Writing a book was out, McCabe said adding that Kelly never wanted to write a book. So McCabe recruited her nephew Ryan White, an award-winning documentarian to help record a DVD for Kelly’s grandson.

Freda Kelly holds up a birthday cake for former Beatles member George Harrison at a private function, St. George, Utah, Feb. 22, 2017 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

The project that was supposed to take only two to four months ended up taking two years, McCabe said.

“This didn’t set out to be a documentary and I didn’t set out for everybody to see,” Kelly said. “When you see the film, it starts off and I’ve just come home from work … I’ve just got black trousers on, a white blouse, sitting on the couch thinking I’m just talking to my grandson.”

“Good Ol’ Freda” a term of endearment given to Kelly by The Beatles — was eventually given the seal of approval by the two remaining living Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr — as well as Apple Records, a division of Apple Corps. Their approval also allowed the film makers to license four Beatles songs to use in the film, McCabe said.

The film debuted at the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival to a standing ovation, McCabe said.

Four years later, Kelly still tours with the film thanks in large part to her humble personality and larger-than-life story.

“Looking back, I was extremely lucky wasn’t I?” Kelly said. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

The screening of “Good Ol’ Freda” is part of Docutah’s monthly screenings which were instituted in 2016 in order to keep the momentum of the growing festival alive throughout the year, said the festival’s founder, Phil Tuckett.

They also serve to give audiences the opportunity to connect with the film makers and/or the film’s subjects at a more intimate level, Tuckett said.

This year’s Docutah International Film Festival will take place in September and, Tuckett said, they are excited about the festival’s future.

“We certainly haven’t come close to where we’re going to end up somewhere in the future,” Tuckett said.

There are still tickets available to see “Good Ol’ Freda at the Bumbleberry Theater in Springdale Saturday at 7 p.m. Reservations must be made online in advance. Tickets are $10.

Event details

  • What: Screening of “Good Ol’ Freda.”
  • When: Saturday, Feb. 25, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Bumbleberry Theater, 897 Zion Park Blvd., Springdale.
  • Cost: $10, cash at the door.
  • Reserve tickets: Online.

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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