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Trenaman's top-up ; Phoneshop is back for a third series and boasts a bunch of famous fans. SOPHIE HERDMAN goes on set to meet actor and writer...

July 20, 2013


Trenaman's top-up ; Phoneshop is back for a third series and boasts a bunch of famous fans. SOPHIE HERDMAN goes on set to meet actor and writer Martin Trenaman

IN the basement of a phone shop on Sutton High Street, not far from the Sutton Arms pub and Bounce Bar, a party is going on.

But this isn't your average party - there are fruit sculptures, pink glittery curtains and a guest list that includes David Brent and Del Boy.

Of course, these are fictional characters, and the two men in attendance are mere impersonators of the famous faces.

The shop isn't real either. It is, in fact, the set of high street TV comedy Phoneshop - and we're watching a scene in which the store attempts to boost sales with a big do.

In the corner of the room Martin Trenaman, who plays store manager Lance Crisp, is being told by the director to do a Trenaman, which involves pulling a face that's part confused, part disappointed.

Despite only having had two major TV roles - the part he's playing now, and Simon's randy dad in The Inbetweeners - Trenaman says he often gets recognised on the street.

It seems I have a stupid hound-dog face, because I get stopped all over the country, he says.

Considering his roles, is it mainly teens who approach him when he's out and about? There are lots of those, he says, but he also gets the odd surprise.

Once I was in Jack Wills getting my daughter a Christmas present when I heard this booming voice. It was an incredibly posh guy who must have been nearly 70. He said, 'Excuse me, are you Lance from Phoneshop?' Trenaman recalls, putting on his poshest voice.

He said, 'I absolutely love it, my favourite is Dwayne'. About two minutes later, he had a problem with his credit card and he shouted across the shop, 'I feel as though I'm on pay-as-you-go!' Trenaman has a number of famous fans too. Nick Knowles saw me at the TV centre and marched straight across and gave me a hug, he says, laughing.

And when working as a writer on comedy panel show A League Of Their Own, he also discovered that Steven Gerrard is an unlikely fan.

Trenaman comes across as upbeat, friendly and, unlike many comedians, confident without spilling over into arrogant. Perhaps that's because he's spent a lot of his career not in front of the camera, but behind the scenes, writing funny things for other people to say.

Winner of So You Think You're Funny in 1994 - the comedy competition that kick-started the careers of Dylan Moran and Peter Kay - Trenaman started off writing with Lee Evans, who was already a successful comedian at the time.

He has since gone on to write for some of the biggest names in the business, including Harry Enfield, Lenny Henry and good friend Bill Bailey.

On top of that, he's contributed to many successful shows, like Never Mind The Buzzcocks, 8 Out Of 10 Cats and Sean Lock's 15 Storeys High.

In 1996, when working on Phil Kay Feels, Trenaman sort of stumbled into acting, and has since appeared in a number of programmes, from The Mighty Boosh to Spaced and, of course, The Inbetweeners.

If he had to choose between acting and writing, he'd probably go for acting, he says.

At the moment, he's working on a couple of sitcoms with Channel 4, but he won't reveal any more, like whether he'll be behind or on screen. I don't want to annoy Channel 4, he says, smiling.

It was while he was writing in the Talkback office, in fact, that Trenaman auditioned for Phoneshop, not that he realised that's what he was doing.

I was working on a show when Phil (Bowker, writer and director of Phoneshop) asked me to come downstairs and help out with the auditions for the rest of the cast, just to stand in as a character, he explains.

About three weeks later I got a call from Phil saying, 'You've got the part', to which I replied, 'What?!' He said, 'Oh yeah, that thing we did, it was a casting, I thought I'd just get some better stuff out of you if I didn't tell you'.

I didn't want the job though, I thought it was rubbish, Trenaman jokes. Once he knew he had the part, he set about doing some grass roots research. I went into a couple of phone shops and asked for the manager. Both times they were substantially younger than me, which is obviously the point, he says, referring to his character, Lance Crisp, who's portrayed as a bit of a failed man.

He had dreams of becoming a millionaire and owning an Aston Martin, but somehow it never quite happened, and now he's stuck as a middle-aged manager of an average phone shop, married to a wife who he mainly finds annoying.

Trenaman insists he's nothing like Lance. I don't think my wife would be very happy with that. He's an idiot, so hopefully there aren't many characteristics we share apart from my voice and appearance.

Ironically, the Phoneshop set is opposite a line of three real phone shops. Are the employees annoyed by the unflattering portrayal of high street phone sellers? When I go out for a fag they try to avoid my gaze, because we're reflecting a certain part of what they do, Trenaman explains.

But on the whole, they seem to enjoy the show. They're pretty cool characters, he says.

Over time, Phoneshop has developed something of a cult following. I think it's hit on something that no one else has, which is the high street, says Trenaman.

Fans of Fonejacker and Facejacker will be sad to hear that Kayvan Novak, whose performances in the show were laugh-out-loud funny, will not be returning for series three. But Trenaman promises that this series is the funniest yet. They've been funny before, but now it's extremely funny. ? PhoneShop returns to E4 on Thursday at 10pm

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