One of the many good things that Pitchcare provides us with is a regular number of enquiries from the TV, PR and film industry. Just in the last year or so we have been asked to provide products and/or services for a number of events including BBC’s Match of the Day, Granada TV’s Jericho, starring Robert Lindsey, and Channel 4’s Big Brother 7.
The latest enquiry was for Big Brother. Prior to the filming of their recent series, I was invited down to Elstree Studios to meet the Production Manager and Set Designers. Once the usual confidentiality agreements were signed, I was taken around the set and asked to work the best solution for the garden area to the set designer’s vision, which included a lawn and two grass armchairs.
I went through the options with the team and they were very pleased when I said that we could prepare and lay the lawn in the final few days leading up to the show. Prior to this series, when real grass had been used, a local landscaper had laid normal garden sized rolls six weeks in advance of the show. This meant that the garden had to be boarded out every morning, and removed every evening, to allow the construction team to build the set. By the time the show went on air the lawn had required patching up and was already in a poor state.
So, the contract was awarded and I brought in the services of Simon Hutton from Fineturf to supply and lay the turf and ‘grow’ two grass armchairs.
The armchairs were made using cardboard templates, put together at Simon’s yard in Lincolnshire, which were then filled with gravel and topped off with rootzone. Seed was supplied in the pack, but there was never going to be enough time to grow it, so we harvested some turf and covered the chair outlines using turf pins to fix them in place.
The armchairs were built two weeks before they were needed in the BB garden, so Simon had to keep them fed and watered to encourage rapid rooting into the rootzone.
We chose some quality turf for the lawn and this area was cordoned off and maintained to a very high standard. This involved an additional fertiliser application, more regular mowing and a dose of growth retardant (Scotts Primo Maxx) to slow the turf’s progress in the BB garden.
I asked Peter Stewart at Linemark UK to provide two identical templates of the Big Brother logo. The production team wanted us to paint the logo onto the lawn to correspond with the carpet design running through the house. Peter produced two fantastic stencils in less than a week, both were about twenty square metres in size.
The only other requirement was rootzone. The whole house is built on top of an open water tank which was used for making naval war films in the fifties and sixties. Obviously the tank doesn’t allow for any drainage, so the garden had to be built up to avoid waterlogging. I had provisionally ordered 20 tons in advance from GSB Loams.
A week before the show was due to go on air, four of us arrived at Elstree studios at 7.00am; the turf lorry, with 200 square metres of big roll and the two armchairs, was there waiting, ready to unload.
Our first task was to wheelbarrow on the rootzone to cover the thick clay and pebbles that littered the rough graded garden.
We were going through the pile of soil quicker than we had expected so I quickly got on the phone to Dave Goodjohn (GSB) who was able to source another 20-ton lorry load within an hour.
While we barrowed in the soil, Simon and his mate used a pedestrian stone rake to level and consolidate the material. By lunchtime the lawn area was soiled and graded, ready for the turf. We boarded out a walk way and started bringing in the big rolls. These were soon laid out and by late afternoon we started cutting in the edges.
By 7.00pm the lawn was down and it looked a treat. There were a lot of builders, carpenters, painters, carpet fitters and production team working around each other all day; a typical building site. But, for those who had been on the project since the start, the lawn seemed to have the desired effect, a sign that all their hard work was coming to fruition.
We brushed up and I popped in the next morning to run a mower over the lawn, to settle it down and stripe it up. I left watering responsibilities with one of the production guys and said I’d be back to cut the grass during the week.
On my next visit, I cut the grass, strimmed around the edges and painted in the logos for a photography session.
My last visit was on the Thursday, the day before the show went live. There would be no access to the house on the day of the show, and all the work needed to be completed. Within minutes of arriving the heavens opened and it just poured down. I was meant to do a final cut, paint in the logos again, and give the armchairs a final trim with a pair of scissors.
I also had twelve long wooden beams to embed in the turf. These beams would provide a solid floor for the large stainless steel garden table and chairs to be bolted too. However, the rain continued into the evening, the lawn flooded and there was nothing that could be done but go back the next morning.
I arrived at 5.00am, got my passes from security, (by now 24 strong, plus dogs) and went inside. The heavy rain had soaked through the lawn nicely. I strimmed around the edges before mowing the lawn three times, producing a circular pattern emanating from the spa bath.
The Production Designer said that he preferred the shaggy look of the armchairs, so they avoided their customary short back and sides and I got on with burying the beams into the lawn.
Once done, I helped put the table and chairs in place, secured some plastic balls of privet around the edges of the garden and helped fix a static camera inside a giant plastic privet bunny!
Then the photographers moved in to get all their promotional shots of the house and garden. I left Elstree to get home in time to see Davina start her two hour preamble to the housemates coming in.
Now, I’m not a lover of reality TV but, with a clear interest in how the lawn looked, I became a nightly viewer of the programme. All of the production team had been saying to me that as long as the set looked great at the start that was all that mattered. In fact, they said the housemates would trash it, so no need to worry.
My concern was keeping the turf watered but, for the first two weeks of the show, it rained much of the time and the grass looked lush and just grew and grew. Eventually, the housemates had to cut the grass as a task, but then the rain made way for the sun and the blisteringly hot weather took over.
Due to the hosepipe bans, I believe that the production team took a conscious decision not to water the grass. The grass died but, thankfully, my reservations about the turf curling up and the armchairs falling apart were unfounded.
Halfway through the show the housemates did start to use the dried grass as smoking material after losing their concessions. Perhaps they were hoping that,like the production company Endemol, the grass would have had Dutch origins as well!
My thanks to Simon, Peter and David for a first class service.