In a recent interview with GQ, Paul McCartney shared a touching teenage story of…jerking off with his friend and bandmate John Lennon. “What it was,” McCartney reminisced, “was over at John’s house, and it was just a group of us. And instead of just getting roaring drunk and partying—I don’t even know if we were staying over or anything—we were all just in these chairs, and the lights were out, and somebody started masturbating, so we all did. We were just, ‘Brigitte Bardot!’ ‘Whoo!’ and then everyone would thrash a bit more. I think it was John sort of said, ‘Winston Churchill!’ […] I think it was a one-off. Or maybe it was like a two-off. It wasn’t a big thing. “
Cue the New York Post front page with the headline “Come Together: Beat the Meatles” and the Cut list of Beatles masturbation puns (“‘Til There Was Goo,” “Eight Yanks A Week,” “Do You Want to Know a Secret About the Beatles — It’s That They Masturbated Together”). This publication ran with the headline, “Here’s a Story About Paul McCartney and John Lennon Cranking Their Hogs.” Two days after the GQ interview was published, it’s already on Know Your Meme.
But Paul’s circle jerk story wasn’t exactly a secret—it’s been covered in many Beatles biographies, including in Paul’s own words in his official, authorized biography. I went through an obsessive Beatles phase as a teenager, and my first response to seeing the headlines was, “But we all already knew that, though, right?” A quick look at Tumblr and Livejournal archives shows I’m right: quotes about John and Paul’s teenage circle jerk have been shared hundreds of times in Beatles fandom.
In fact, the GQ profile itself presents the circle jerk story as Beatles lore that writer Chris Heath was simply fact-checking, along with stories about about how George Harrison lost his virginity and how Paul replaced early Beatles member Stuart Sutcliffe on the bass—something most of the quickly-written aggregated stories about the interview have failed to mention. When John Lennon was alive, he shared the circle jerk story, too. In fact, he wrote a play about it—a play that was performed over 10,000 times (don’t worry, we’ll get into that later). In other words, Beatles fans have already known that Paul and John jerked off together because, apparently, neither of them could shut up about it.
Here’s how Paul described the circle jerk 20 years ago, in his own words. The quote comes from his official biography Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now by Barry Miles (1997), which Miles interviewed McCartney extensively for. Paul’s story has hardly changed, indicating that it was something of an anecdote:
We used to have wanking sessions when we were young at Nigel Whalley’s house in Woolton. We’d stay overnight and we’d all sit in armchairs and we’d put all the lights out and being teenage pubescent boys, we’d all wank. What we used to do, someone would say, ‘Brigitte Bardot.’ ‘Oooh!’ That would keep everyone on par, then somebody, probably John, would say, ‘Winston Churchill.’ ‘Oh, no!’ and it would completely ruin everyone’s concentration.
The story also appears—in similar forms—in John Lennon: The Life (2004) and Paul McCartney: The Life (2016), both by Philip Norman (Norman also notes other details of Lennon’s teenage masturbation habits, including that he once jerked off nine times in one day on a dare, and offers Gina Lollobrigida and Frank Sinatra as alternates for Bardot and Churchill); circle jerk participant and masturbation dare-giver Pete Shotton’s 1983 memoir John Lennon In My Life; The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles (2009) by Kenneth Womack; and Paul McCartney: A Life (2009) by Peter Ames Carlin. Frequent Beatles collaborator actor Victor Spinetti offers a markedly different version of the story in his memoir Up Front: His Strictly Confidential Autobiography (2006). He places the group masturbation years later, post-fame, and includes the other Beatles. Group masturbation, according to Spinetti, was a way for the Fab Four to pass the time while on tour or filming a Beatles movie (three of which Spinetti appeared in). He writes:
Even in private I knew they hadn’t become hard bitten because if they were stuck together far away from home, the most daring thing they got up to was a wanking game. There they’d lie in the darkness like schoolboys in a dormitory and the first to put the others off from coming was the winner. They’d all start and then John would say ‘Madame de Gaulle’ and if the others didn’t fall out of bed laughing he’d try ‘Richard Milhous Nixon.’
Spinetti eventually collaborated with Lennon on a theatrical version of the circle jerk story, and John wrote a play about jerking off with Paul. Called “Four In Hand,” it was part of a part of the nude musical theatrical revue Oh! Calcutta by British drama critic Kenneth Tynan, which premiered in 1969; other contributors included Samuel Beckett and Sam Shepard. In his autobiography, Spinetti writes that he suggested the idea to Tynan, but Philip Norman gives a different account. According to Norman, the play came about when John—of course—shared his masturbation story as an anecdote at one of Tynan’s “famously starry parties.” In response, Tynan proposed Lennon write it as a sketch for Oh! Calcutta, with the working title “Liverpool Wank.” Norman adds that Yoko Ono “responded wholeheartedly” to the “Liverpool Wank” idea and coached John through writer’s block as he wrote, “standing at his shoulder, the way Paul McCartney once used to.”
The play shows four men—three unnamed circle jerk pros, one newcomer named George—as they masturbate in front of telepathic screens showing naked women…and, thanks to George, the Lone Ranger. The revue (for which Beatles producer George Martin specially recorded a sound tape at Abbey Road) was very dirty—right-wing activists called for it to be shut down, and the obscenity squad investigated—and also quite successful. It premiered Off-Broadway in New York in 1969 and ran on-and-off in New York, London, and Madrid throughout the 70s and 80s, playing over 10,000 times in various theaters worldwide. A version was even released theatrically in 1972. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube, if you want; the jerk-off scene starts at 1:33:42. You’re welcome.
So there you have it. Paul’s GQ quote is just the tip of the…iceberg…when it comes to the Beatles masturbation story. As Dreaming the Beatles author Rob Sheffield pointed out on Twitter, the jerk-off story has been weirdly forgotten when you consider how much John and Paul talked (and wrote) about it….until now, that is. It might have taken the world 50 years to listen, but hopefully now the circle jerk story will remain where it belongs: an important part of the official Beatles canon.
Follow Erika W. Smith on Twitter.