My Ground and The Crown Netflix Series to be filmed in January, yes that’s correct. A pitch on the square was required to be prepared, but grounds person Chris Johnson rose to the challenge and here’s his blog on what unfolded.
Imagine your square is like Lord’s on a hot August day and then visualise it being the bizarre reality at the end of January. Well, that’s what happened to me last winter when I was asked to prepare our square at Knebworth Park Cricket Club to film a scene for Netflix’s latest series in its blockbuster The Crown. Knebworth Park CC, sits in the shadows of Knebworth House.
It sees Jonny Lee Miller playing John Major, Prime Minister at the time in 1995, umpiring a cricket match at the home of cricket. When first approached about filming this location, I couldn’t believe it, quipping there’d be no leaves on the trees and at that time the previous year there was a thick carpet of snow on the ground.
I was told not to worry about all that! The plan was to erect a stand at one end of the ground and advertising signage painted on the outfield to add realism. Ground contractors would clear the huge quantity of leaves, make good the worm cast-laden outfield and repaint the sight screens. My job was just to sort the wicket. Simple? Not quite!
The main challenge was to get it pristine and straw coloured and firm enough for cricket actors to run around on. An added problem was to remove or disguise the patchwork of brown patches of red thread fungal disease. I had to get the square measured up, a time-consuming task normally done nearer the cricket season.
At first the film company and I discounted using grass paint to get the square the right colour and contrast. Instead, I pressed on, cutting it down with our Hayter Harrier 45 rotary mower but found that insufficient. I dug out the wicket mower, the Dennis FT610, which I wouldn’t normally use at this time of the year, and it worked brilliantly. We were lucky with the weather in preparing the ground as we were blessed with a record dry January.
All winter I’d been treating the square with a caring regime of brushing and cutting, as well as nutrition and aeration supplements from our fertiliser supplier Terralift to ensure it had good growth and was nice and firm. Somehow, I still had to make it look like Summer and to mask the red thread, so I applied a heavy dose of Terralift Microflora 18-2-2 high nitrogen liquid feed which I normally only use in Summer as well as Aitkens Reflex iron boost. I also gave an added dose of Rocastem to further aid aeration and improve the firmness of the ground.
Timing of applying these was vital as days of frosty weather made spraying a non-starter. Thankfully it warmed up beautifully just in time, five days before filming, and soon the square was a pristine rich green, disguising all the red thread. The wicket itself I’d been brushing and cutting lower day by day and it really did begin to look just like Summer. I actually took it below my normal match wicket to get it a Lord’s straw-colour.
When it came to the filming, the camera crews and a large entourage including directors, actors and extras were all on site at 7am early Monday morning. The sky was a lovely Barbados blue but gosh the chill factor was a brutal Arctic sub-zero. The extras in the stand were dressed as if high summer (they must have been shivering) and in front of them at ground level pseudo cameramen further replicated the 1995 Test match scene, as a group of cricketers created the drama for John Major to adjudicate.
The wicket, in spite of a surprising overnight shower, performed well. Covers weren’t an option although they would have helped.
The film directors were thrilled with the pitch that meant filming worked perfectly. A few days after filming that green sward lost colour under the weight of its unseasonal boost of fertiliser and looked quite sad and stressed, but it soon recovered as remarkably wet weather arrived.
What timing that the rain stayed away until after the filming. The whole venture was a quite special experience.
If you want to read more about Chris and his work at Knebworth Park CC take a look at these blogs – https://turfcareblog.com/?s=chris+johnson
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