Meet the acting labradors who were stars of The Crown

Tracey Kavanagh with her dogs Tor (left) and Rea (right)

Tracey Kavanagh with her dogs Tor (left) and Rea (right) - Credit: Jim Holden

Tracey Kavanagh’s gifted black labradors were talent-spotted at an agility competition, for key acting roles in Netflix behemoth The Crown.

Tracey Kavanagh with her dogs Tor (left) and Rea (right)

Tracey Kavanagh with her dogs Tor (left) and Rea (right) - Credit: Jim Holden

It’s not every bit-part actor who gets a pat on the head from Charles Dance or gets to share Olivia Colman’s dinner, but for labrador Rea and her mother Mole, it’s all part of a working day. These pedigree black labs were talent-spotted and propelled to stardom in the latest series of the hugely popular Netflix series The Crown. Their owner Tracey Kavanagh says: “It all happened so quickly and unexpectedly. We were taking part in an agility competition a couple of years ago. A lady came up, introduced herself as an animal film/TV agent and said she was looking for well-behaved labradors to star in The Crown.”

Rea, who is new to the world of showbusiness, appeared in multiple scenes. She played the part of Lord Mountbatten’s dog. Charles Dance played Lord Mountbatten and was very much a hands-on owner. “You could tell he was fond of dogs,” says Tracey. “He made a point of asking to meet Rea before going on set.

“He would come over between scenes, make a fuss of her and tell her how well she’d done.” In episode five Rea had to sit by the bath while Lord Mountbatten was in it holding a glass of whisky. She also had to sit patiently next to the valet while both waited for Lord Mountbatten to arrive home.

Handsome Tor, the man of the family and the youngest, was also destined for stardom. “They originally wanted Tor for the part of Lord Mountbatten’s dog but he would have just been too strong and bouncy... he would probably have jumped into the bath with Charles and knocked over the whisky!” says Tracey. Tor went on to have his own role in a television advert for McDonald’s which showed him gambolling across a park in London.

Olivia Colman, who stars as the Queen, was also very taken with the dogs. Tracey says: “Both Mole and Rea featured in a family barbecue the Queen and Prince Philip were having with their children. During the filming Olivia called Rea over and instructed Prince Philip to get a sausage for her. She made Rea sit before she gave it to her.”

Tracey is proud of how her dogs behaved on the set. “It can be quite intimidating as there is so much going on – people rushing around, cameras being moved around on tracks, microphones on long poles everywhere. The dogs could have been quite spooked but they adapted to it very quickly. Especially Rea, she knew she was working and took her role seriously.”

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Tracey was also able to get in on the action: “On the first day of shooting the dogs were just collected and taken to the set by the agent but after that they asked me to be there during the filming. In the bath scene I was actually standing out of shot opposite the bath so Rea was looking at me, but in the scene it appeared she was looking directly at Lord Mountbatten.” And there were the usual tricks of the trade. “In the scene where Rea was waiting to greet Lord Mountbatten as his car drove up, I made sure I gave the actor who played the valet some treats to keep in his pocket, so eventually Rea would wag her tail on cue when she saw the car arrive,” says Tracey.

The dogs and their owner are all Sussex born and bred. Tracey, originally from Balls Cross outside Petworth, now lives in Bury outside Arundel and has been a local postie for 17 years. The dogs, all pedigree, are descended from a lineage that takes in Bolney, Storrington and East Sussex.

Tracey intends to continue her dogs’ film careers. “They were such a hit on set and I was so proud of them. Being part of the series meant we could visit spectacular country estates we had never seen before. Loseley Park doubled up for Lord Mountbatten’s home, Broadlands. We also filmed at Belvoir Castle in Lincolnshire and Audley End House in Saffron Walden. I took loads of photos and enjoyed every minute of it.”