The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of behavioural science for population health but also exposed the lack of established collaboration between academics and public health (PH) agencies and professionals. Across the world, academia and PH have their own ways of working; for example, academic research is generally slower than the time demands required of PH, and such differences may help explain the continued lack of established routes of collaboration between academia and PH. Using the environment in the United Kingdom (UK) as an exemplar, we highlight the disconnect between academic behavioural science and PH that was evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the UK, PH agencies used internal government polling and rapid turn-around focus groups to inform policy and practice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Did academic behavioural science research also inform PH policy and practice? The answer, of course, is yes, but there is room for improvement if the aim is to have rapid real-time impact.