Fantasy phone calls get thumbs up from the hung up

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FROM the country that brought you Vorsprung durch Technik, another giant leap forward. This one, in the field of telecommunications, involves a unique, personal service.

For as little as 5 Deutschmarks ( pounds 2) a time, Joachim Benz, a German entrepreneur, will telephone customers on their mobile phones whenever they want him to. The idea came to him earlier this year after he noticed how many Germans have mobile phones, but how few ever get called on them.

Mr Benz, a 29-year-old businessman from the Frankfurt am Main region, said: 'It struck me that although the aim of displaying these phones rather ostentatiously was to create an impression of being incredibly important and busy, the whole thing backfired if they never rang.

'I thought some people would actually pay to be telephoned. A lot of people said I was crazy, but judging from the response I have been getting so far, I was right.'

Since starting his firm - Rent-A-Call - Mr Benz has been flooded with calls from businessmen anxious to impress colleagues. A call in the middle of an important conference can be arranged for DM15. Some have requested calls during tennis matches with business associates.

Enquiries have come from people wanting to put on an act for a new date. Somebody wanted to be telephoned by a woman asking him out to the theatre in order to make his wife feel jealous. 'It is not my business to question people's motives or to analyse them,' Mr Benz said. 'My clients' reasons for wanting the service are their own affair. But . . . there are a lot of professional neurotics out there.'

Mr Benz remains unrepentant: 'I did not fabricate the need. But perhaps I helped to awaken it.'