In a BBC interview, Sir Paul McCartney seems finally to have spilled the beans on the band’s break-up

What did he say?

He claimed he did not instigate the 1970 split. “That was our Johnny,” he said. “John walked into the room one day and said ‘I am leaving The Beatles’. And he said: ‘It’s quite thrilling, it’s rather like a divorce’. And then we were left to pick up the pieces.” Sir Paul added: “I thought we were doing some pretty good stuff – Abbey Road, Let It Be, not bad – and I thought we could continue.”

Who did he say it to?

Broadcaster John Wilson, for an episode of radio programme This Cultural Life to be aired on BBC Radio Four on October 23. With a scoop like that, the BBC is understandably breaking the news early. Wilson goes on to ask him whether the band would have continued if Lennon hadn’t walked away. Sir Paul replied: “It could have … the point of it really was that John was making a new life with Yoko.”

So that’s that then?

Yes and no. In press material accompanying the release in April 1970 of McCartney, his first solo album, the Beatles bassist interviewed himself. Asked if he could see the Lennon-McCartney song-writing partnership becoming active again he said no. And, though he admitted he wasn’t sure if the break from The Beatles was temporary or permanent, he did talk about the band’s personal, business and musical differences and added: “I have a better time with my family.”

What did the press say to that?

Predictably it was headline news. “Paul quits The Beatles,” screamed the Daily Mirror front page on Friday April 10, 1970. From that came the popular belief that it was Sir Paul who jumped ship first.

So he did instigate it?

Again, yes and no. Lennon had been making contradictory statements for some months about leaving The Beatles. Quoted in Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner’s 1971 book Lennon Remembers, he said he made the decision to leave in September 1969 on his way to Toronto to perform with the Plastic Ono Band. “I announced it to myself and to the people around me.” He says he also told Allen Klein, the Beatles’ manager. But a few months later, in January 1970, he told a journalist in Denmark that the band wasn’t splitting, adding: “but we’re breaking its image”.

It’s confusing …

It is. Sir Paul says Klein didn’t want the news of Lennon’s departure to break while new contracts were being negotiated and because it would harm certain business interests. “So for a few months we had to pretend,” he tells Wilson. “It was weird because we all knew it was the end of The Beatles but we couldn't just walk away.”