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TV: The Apprentice

Nicola Mostyn thinks the party just got started with the Sugar man

Published on May 6th 2009.

TV: The Apprentice

I’VE come to The Apprentice late this time, but no matter. It’s like arriving at a party when it’s in full swing. All the making nice has been dispensed with, inhibitions have been lowered, and everyone’s showing their t…er true selves.

As party host, Sir Alan remains blissfully unchanged. I love him. I really do. Sometimes I wish Sir Alan would elbow Gordon Brown out of the way and just take over our flailing economy, simply because he’s done such a good job of presenting himself as the most sensible businessman in the world. He’d probably sort out the global recession by making bankers sell underwear down an East End market and we could vote them out each week. Economically sound AND entertaining. What’s not to like? Except, perhaps that’s not such a great idea. Because what if Sugar couldn’t fix it? What if he’s just a TV construct and not a business superhero after all? That would be an awful realisation, like seeing your dad cry or finding out God was just a tiny man with cracking CGI skills.

Anyhoo, last week the apprentices were given a collection of 10 items – some valuable, some tat, including a very costly rug, a pair of vintage shoes, a James Bond first edition, a skeleton and a commode. “The task this week is all about selling,” said Sir Alan, as if the tasks were usually about world peace or getting in touch with one’s inner child.

Team Ignite (same crappy names, I see) was headed by Philip, a tall estate agent with a County Durham accent and a supreme sense of his own magnificence. Team Empire was headed by Ben, who looks a bit like Tyrone off Corrie if Tyrone been raised by Loyd Grossman and grown up posh.

On Phil’s team Lorraine took a shine to the rug, showing herself – if we are to remain with the party analogy – to be the clever, odd wallflower with the funny glasses that no one wants to kiss. “You’re wasting your time with that rug, it’s not very old,” said Phil, establishing himself as the one who hasn’t grasped the point of antiques.

Speaking of old things, he then took the skeleton to a shop which sells 'curiosities': “It’s not the kind of thing we’d sell,” the man said, “purely because it’s too new.”

Too new!? How new, exactly? And has anyone seen the last batch of Apprentices recently?

Undaunted, Phil tried again with the skeleton. Astonishingly, his tactic was to wheel the skeleton into a pub and ask if there were any doctors or nurses present. Even more astonishingly, a guy – not even a doctor!, not even a nurse! – bought it on the spot for £160. He bought a skeleton in a pub. I mean, it’s not like this was a crabstick or a badge for cystic fibrosis. I dearly wish that at that point the camera crew had abandoned the Apprentices and followed the man home as he explained his new purchase to his wife. There really should be a red button for this.

Over on the other team, Empire had less luck with the skeleton when their potential buyer claimed he was a student and couldn’t pay more than 50 quid. (Personally, I didn’t believe him. He looked like he might just like the idea of fiddling with a cut-price corpse). “But it’s spring loaded at the jaw,” pleaded Noorul, a science teacher from Rochdale, as though that was going to swing it.

As ever, while the teams attempted, haplessly, to flog their goods, Margaret and Nick loomed disapprovingly over the candidates like spectres at a feast, or, if you prefer, like narky next-door neighbours asking the kids to turn down the noise and stop mooning in their garden.

Inexplicably, the Apprentices found the valuable circular rug most difficult to sell. That is until Phil managed to bump into a man who had been walking down the street with the express purpose of buying a rug if one should happen to chance by. Who are these people? Honestly, if the marketing world gets wind of this unknown and as-yet-untapped demographic of wistful shoppers, it can’t be long before we are being offered armchairs, illuminated globes and prosthetic limbs as soon as we head out of the front door.

Eventually, all the goods were sold and it was time to go back to the boardroom. It transpired that Phil’s team had won – though Phil was in the bad books for overriding Lorraine on the rug issue. “You are a Cassandra,” said Margaret of the single mum. “You tell the truth but nobody listens.” Well, that’s slightly kinder than Phil’s earlier classical allusion: “Everything that comes out of her mouth is bollocks.” I think he got that from The Iliad.

Ben’s team, being the losers, inevitably started a cat fight. Who would Ben bring back into the boardroom? Evil ice queen Deborah, who could kill you with a single look and/or punch to the throat, or the charisma-free zone that is Noorul?

“I’m going to bring James back in,” says Ben. Right, James. Good one. Hang on. Who the hell is James? James has not had a smidgen of airtime. I don’t even know who James is. I’m not the only one who’s surprised. “What!!!” says James, articulating every one of those exclamation marks.

Alan was similarly perplexed by Ben’s choice. “I hope you’re not thinking there might be a village missing an idiot somewhere,” he said, at which James looked even more comically shocked. Funniest thing I’ve seen in AGES.

Sensing his mistake, Ben changed his mind and brought back Deborah and Noorul. Inevitably, science teacher Noorul got the chop, being the less cartoon-like of the three. Back to hovering around a Bunsen burner in sandals for you, my boy.

Meanwhile, back at the house, Lorraine was getting all Mystic Meg with her new-found psychic status. “I think Deborah will go,” she said. Hmmm. Don’t give up the day job, pet. Oh, too late.

The Apprentice, BBC1, Wednesday, 9pm

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ufar iredMay 6th 2009.

The black girl will win in the interests of balance. Too many white people are employed in the higher echelons of business. It is about time their prejudices were shattered. Too many black men and women are being held back and prevented from giving some real power to the most important and most creative minority in the UK.

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