Thursday, March 27

Review: The Apprentice

The new series of The Apprentice is as daft as ever, but also as welcome, says Mark Lewis

As a TV reviewer, I rate myself as probably the best in New Cross. Quite a claim, because - say what you like about New Cross - there are as many as 15 literate people on my street alone.

"As a sales person I rate myself as probably the best in Europe," says one of the contestants at the beginning of the latest series of The Apprentice (Wednesday, BBC1 9pm), leaving me feeling just a little short on ambition.

In a programme representing more egos than a session on the couch with Sigmund Freud, ambition is never going to be a problem. Talent, on the other hand, is.

We are told that these people represent the next generation of top entrepreneurs, but judging from their negotiating skills so far, they are about as sophisticated as an evening with Little and Large.

The girl’s team captain described herself as having been compared often with her childhood best friend. "My family has a big German Shepherd,” she told us. “I am often compared with him because…” she said something about ploughing right through people, but there wasn’t a person at home who (admit it) wasn’t thinking, “… because you’re a big fat dog?”

But she was at least tough. Her gambit for selling fish to a restauranteur: "Is that your best offer? Because I’ll definitely take it if that’s your best offer. But can I ask you to give me a little bit more?"

But somehow the boys were even worse. Michael asked a solicitors office for a £130 for a box of fish.

"I’ll give you fifty quid."
"I’m going to have to ask you for a hundred quid"
"I’ll give you fifty quid"
"fifty quid."

"I negotiated as best I could, but I could only get £50," he said when he got back. And he wasn’t even fired.

The first person to be fired was a barrister who couldn’t count. Nicholas managed to mix up the difference between a kilo and a lobster, then attempted to explain away his ineptitude by telling former Tottenham Hotspur Chairman Alan Sugar that he wasn’t the sort of bloke who could get on easily with a conversation about football.

He was thicker than a kilo of low fat Sainsburys Basics cheddar, and a terrifying indicator of the kind of cretin who might end up defending me if I ever decide to impress Alan Sugar by selling crack to kids.

That, at least, would demonstrate to sir Alan the kind of entrepreneurial spirit which was so clearly missing from Nicholas, and give me an opportunity to try to get in with Alan by doing my impression of a kids TV character.

Sir Alan is already like a grown up Zippy, bullying his charges like a collection of scared Georges. He thunders around the Rainbow studio with panto villainy, pointing and bellowing like a beanstalk giant.

‘This is a business bootcamp,’ he says at the start. ‘Mary Poppins I am not.’ But only because he is already contracted to play one of the ugly sisters at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens this Christmas.

His two henchmen add to the panto fun. In past series Margaret and Nick have been consigned to doing little more than watching from the background wearing turd-sucking expressions and standing silently behind Alan while he camps it up in the boardroom.

This time they are let off the leash to lash out at the contestants: in this case Raef, who is set to become the star of this show. He’s posher than Prince William and camper than Simon Cowell. “I’m prepared to fight to the death in the boardroom,” he said. “Words are my tool.” Tool is right.

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