How The Beatles' George Harrison coined the word "grotty" and deconstructed influencer culture in 1964

28 December 2023, 09:00

George Harrison in A Hard Day's Night
George Harrison in A Hard Day's Night. Picture: United Artists

By Mayer Nissim

George Harrison's movie-stealing scene in A Hard Day's Night famously gave the world the word "grotty" but it also did so much more.

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A Hard Day's Night was a cinema landmark, and not just as the first Beatles movie.

Rock and pop artists had been in films before, but while most were quick and cheap cash-ins, Richard Lester's musical comedy was a critical as well as a commercial smash.

Charting 36 fictional hours in the life of the Fab Four just as Beatlemania was exploding, it showed off the lads' abilities as talented actors as well as musicians.

John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr display a dry wit and tremendous ability to play themselves on screen, which isn't nearly as easy as it sounds.

As well as some frankly incredible musical numbers, from the opening 'A Hard Days Night' chase to the closing 'She Loves You' concert, the narrative is stitched together by an incredibly sharp script from Alun Owen, putting together endlessly quoteable bits of dialogue and laugh-out-loud vignettes.

A Hard Day's Night Official Remastered Trailer (2014) - The Beatles Movie HD

And maybe the very best moment of the film finds The Beatles in a TV studio when George Harrison wanders off into the office of adman Simon Marshall, played by an uncredited Kenneth Haigh (who had previously played Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger on the stage).

George is asked by Simon to give his opinion on some new shirts. "Well, not your REAL opinion, naturally. It'll be written out for you, and you'll learn it," Simon says.

"Now, you'll like these. You'll really 'dig' them. They're 'fab', and all the other pimply hyperboles."

A Hard Day's Night~Funny George Harrison Scene

So in 1964, George is basically being asked to be an influencer. All that's missing is the #ad hashtag. But George doesn't seem too keen to play ball.

"I wouldn't be seen dead in them," he murmurs. "They're dead grotty."

And while we all use the word grotty today, the 1964 novelisation of A Hard Day's Night was the first time the word was ever used in print.

Years later in Anthology, George remembered: "Alun Owen made that up; I didn’t. People have used that word for years now. It was a new expression: grotty – grotesque."

George Harrison eyes up the "grotty" shirts
George Harrison eyes up the "grotty" shirts. Picture: United Artists

In a 1989 interview with Mark Rowland republished in George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters, Harrison claimed that not only didn't he come up with the word, he didn't even want to say it.

"They just got this writer who was from the same place or same area as we were from, a playwright, and he just sort of hung out with us for two days and then went off and wrote it," George said of the film's dialogue.

"And then when we came to shoot it, we said, 'I'm not saying that. I wouldn't say that'. And we just changed it into what we would say.

"Not in every instance – because I said a word which became like a... you know, people still use it to this day, and it was the dumbest word: 'grotty'. But that was the scriptwriter wrote that... I didn't want to say it, but I said it anyway.”

George Harrison steals the show in A Hard Day's Night
George Harrison steals the show in A Hard Day's Night. Picture: United Artists

Regardless of who invented the word, it was George who actually said it on screen, and naturally when he did it, adman Simon was naturally not too impressed.

"Make a note of that word and give it to Susan," Simon said.

"It's rather touching, really. Here's this kid, giving me his utterly valueless opinion, when I know for a fact that within a month, he'll be suffering from a violent inferiority complex and loss of status because he isn't wearing one of these nasty things!" he explodes.

"Of course they're grotty, you wretched nit! That's why they were designed! But that's what you'll want."

Simon Marshall is shocked by George's honesty
Simon Marshall is shocked by George's honesty. Picture: United Artists

And when George says he doesn't care about being replaced, Simon predicts the 1980s with the killer line: "And that pose is out too, Sonny Jim. The new thing is to care passionately and be right-wing."

And things only go downhill from then, when Simon dangles the opportunity of meeting Susan Canby, his brand's professional trendsetter and "resident teenager". "You'll have to love her, she's your symbol."

George instead dismisses her as "that posh bird who gets everything wrong" and "a drag – a well-known drag".

So, effectively coining the word "grotty" AND dismantling influencer culture in less than three minutes, all the way back in 1964. Not bad for The Quiet Beatle.