Popular beat combo

Popular beat combo, which originated as a synonym for "pop group",[1] is a phrase within British culture.[2] It may also be used more specifically to refer to The Beatles, or other such purveyors of beat music.

The phrase is frequently used in Private Eye and in the BBC panel game Have I Got News For You, making fun of Ian Hislop's supposed lack of knowledge about modern music.


It is widely held that the phrase "popular beat combo" was coined in an English courtroom in the 1960s, by a barrister in response to a judge asking (for the benefit of the court's records) "Who are The Beatles?"; the answer being "I believe they are a popular beat combo, m'lud."[3]

However, neither the question nor the answer has ever been reliably attributed, and remains the stuff of urban legend. Marcel Berlins, legal correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, failed in his attempt to track down any verification.[4] In 2007, Berlins restated his offer of "a bottle of best Guardian champagne to any reader with a solution".[5] Christie Davies attributes the encounter to Judge James Pickles.[6]

The phrase is part of a trope in postwar British culture where judges are seen to be out of touch,[7] the ultimate example being in the 1960 obscenity trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover, in which the legal profession was ridiculed for being out of touch with changing social norms when the chief prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, asked jurors to consider if it were the kind of book "you would wish your wife or servants to read".[8][9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Games, Alex (2011). Kick the Bucket and Swing the Cat: The Complete Balderdash & Piffle Collection of English Words, and Their Curious Origins. Random House. p. 274. ISBN 9781446415115. Informally defined as the description of a pop group from the early days of rock and roll.
  2. ^ OED Third Edition (December 2006). "popular beat combo, n.": " "humorous or ironic. Chiefly British."
  3. ^ Julian Champkin (25 November 2011). "Editorial/Letters". Significance. Royal Statistical Society. 8 (4): 187–189. doi:10.1111/j.1740-9713.2011.00531.x.
  4. ^ "Legal Banter". Archived from the original on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2007-12-02.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link) "If anyone would like a magnum of champagne in return for a little literary sleuthing, Marcel Berlins, legal correspondent for the Guardian, has a competition. There are many references (check Google for confirmation) to a judge who once asked, during a case (perhaps in the 60s) "Who are the Beatles?". Berlins contends this is apocryphal and will award said fizz to anyone who proves otherwise."
  5. ^ "Marcel Berlins: Was this judge just too clever at playing dumb?". The Guardian. 20 May 2007. Retrieved 5 January 2021.
  6. ^ Davies, Christie. "Judges and Humour in Britain: From Anecdotes to Jokes" in Jessica Milner Davis and Sharyn Roach Anleu (eds.) (2018). Judges, Judging and Humour, p. 68. ISBN 978-3-319-76737-6
  7. ^ The Times: Slow, but steady, move forward. "AGEISM in the legal profession seems an unlikely concept. The stereotype is of an aged — usually male — judge being informed that the Arctic Monkeys are “a popular beat combo, m’lud”. But at the commercial end of the profession, firms are gearing up for the discrimination regulations that come into force in October."
  8. ^ "Google has eroded a judge's right to be heroically out of touch". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 January 2021.
  9. ^ "1960: Lady Chatterley's Lover sold out". News.bbc.co.uk. 10 November 1960. Retrieved 5 January 2021.