Jane Horrocks appears as aspiring deputy supermarket manager in new comedy Trollied, which begins on Sky1 tonight. Lisa Williams takes a look around the aisles of her value supermarket Valco, and speaks to the Absolutely Fabulous actress about her love of shopping and why she based her character on someone from Come Dine With Me.
When Jane Horrocks walks off set wearing a charcoal skirt suit, lime green shirt and vivid peach lipstick, she could be any shop assistant coming off the supermarket aisles for her lunch break.
She’s even wearing a name badge, although on closer inspection it’s emblazoned with ‘Julie’.
Behind her, Valco looms large. It may be a television studio underneath, but the supermarket set of new comedy Trollied is so vast and realistic, you’re tempted to slot a pound into one of the trolleys and start stocking up on ‘Treat Yourself’ Spinach Lasagne.
Unlike most sitcoms, Trollied isn’t being filmed in the corner of a draughty warehouse.
It’s a vast production for Sky1HD, complete with shoppers in anoraks who weave their way through the promotional displays, set up beneath strip lighting.
“For them to have built this arena for us to play in is brilliant. I don’t think it would have been feasible in a real supermarket, unless you did it all on night shifts,” says Jane.
Her character is a fiercely ambitious, rather snobby lifetime employee of the Warrington branch of Valco.
“Julie’s worked there for 20 years so she knows it back to front,” she says, with a flutter of her heavily made-up eyelashes.
She’s even taken her admiration to the next level by formulating a crippling crush on the store manager Gavin, in front of whom she turns into what Horrocks describes as “a gibbering wreck”.
But there’s a sad story beneath Julie’s thick lipstick and bossiness, as Jane explains: “She was jilted four years ago so she’s carrying all that angst, and it crops up on many occasions. The man who dumped her is just known as ‘The b******d’.
“She was thrown off kilter and didn’t apply for the role of deputy manager when it came up, so she’s a missed opportunities sort of person.”
Jane, known primarily for playing airhead assistant Bubble in the early Nineties sitcom Absolutely Fabulous but with a string of award-winning performances behind her, leapt at the chance to play jobsworth Julie as soon as she read the script: “I really wanted to do it, and I’ve not felt that way about anything for a long time,” she sighs.
And, when she found out The Office producer Ash Atalla was on board, nothing could stop her getting that role.
“I saw that as a very good sign. I would have been cross if someone else had played the part.”
It was while watching Come Dine With Me that Jane, pictured right, found her inspiration for Julie, however.
“The episode was set in Stoke-on-Trent and there was this character called Tracy who I thought was a real snob.
“She got things so wrong but was dismissive of the other competitors.
“So she’s on my screensaver on my computer and was absolutely what I thought Julie would be.”
Jane perfected a posh Liverpool accent to play Julie because she hates having to act in her own very distinctive Lancashire one (which she was advised at drama school to “tone down”). She has done so only once, while playing the title role in the BBC’s The Amazing Mrs Pritchard, five years ago.
“I don’t feel comfortable performing as me, so even if it’s a northern voice, it has to be something different to what I am,” she says.
With its workplace location, string of colourful characters and a will-they-won’t-they romance between two of the younger members of staff, there’s a parallel with The Office before Atalla’s name is even mentioned.
Jane acknowledges this but says that, despite its fly-on-the-wall style, the series is much less naturalistic than Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s creation.
“You may think it’s The Office set in a supermarket. But I think it might be slightly more heightened than that.”
Naturally she’ll be hoping Trollied will have the same universal appeal of Gervais/Merchant creation, which has spawned seven regional variations across the globe, with a US, Chinese and Israeli remake among them.
“Most people go to supermarkets to shop, so I think people will recognise things in it like manoeuvring trolleys and opening those silly little bags for your fruit and veg.”
It’s also strange for Jane to find herself among the shelves again, having starred for years alongside Prunella Scales in television adverts for Tesco.
“I actually like supermarket shopping,” she says.
“I find it very therapeutic. People say, ‘When you go to Tesco after you’ve been working all day on this, do you walk around thinking about the job?’
“But I don’t do that at all, I just do my shopping. It’s an everyday occurrence - I’m never out of Tesco,” she adds, sounding every bit as faithful as her new screen persona.
Although it’s set in Warrington, the series is actually filmed in Bristol.
The cast includes several stars of northern comedy, including The Full Monty’s Mark Addy as Valco’s in-house butcher, and Early Doors stars Rita May and Lorraine Cheshire.
To prepare for filming, the producers took the cast to Morrisons, where they talked to staff and had training on the tills.
The art department have inserted jokes on to the supermarket produce, so packets of rigatoni have ‘takes hours to cook’ or ‘made by peasant farmers’ on their labels. But it’s unlikely we’ll see them on screen.