In the Critics this week

Neil Morrisey's childhood, 20th century folk music, and civil war reprobates.

In the Critics section of this week's New Statesman, Rob Young traces the utopian visions conjured by folk music in the 20th century; Felicity Cloake discovers that English winemakers are "making great strides"; Helen Lewis-Hasteley wonders whether there's such a thing as "English cuisine", and concludes that though our dishes are prone to absorbing foreign influences, "when you can walk along a high street in even a smallish English town and a small peri-peri, cinnamon and garlic alongside the salty tang of fish and chips, who would have it any other way?"

In Film, Ryan Gilbey watches Duncan Jones' Source Code, and appreciates its sense of "underlying futility": "the visions of violence and destruction can't help but seem definitive". However, "few films" have "generated so little excitement from that old stand-by, the ticking bomb". Rachel Cooke watches celebrity documentary Neil Morrissey: Care Home Kid on BBC2, confessing from the off her "allergy" to the sub-genre ("the narcissism and self-pity is enough to make the skin itch"). This particular one, though, is "extremely moving". On the radio, Antonia Quirke listens to the various on-air tributes to Elizabeth Taylor, and finds the BBC's coverage strangely rife with mentions of "tributes that we never quite got to hear". Heat FM, conversely, had captured "Elton John" and "similar exotica" paying their respects. American radio was "headier", and World Service oddly reserved.

In Books, Leo Robson considers Philip Hensher's King of the Badgers, and Monica Ali's Untold Story as two examples of "condition of England" novels. Hensher is praised for "his steady head" ("his greatest attribute after his energy and fluency"), whilst Ali's mishandling of the "relationship between recorded fact, outright fabrication and plausible invention" has consequences for this novel's "identity and scrutability". David Crystal admires Melvyn Bragg's taking of opportunity to fruitfully display his "breadth of encounter" in a review of Bragg's The Books of Books: the Radical Impact of the King James Bible (1611-2011). Amanda Craig notes the charm of Katherine Swift's writing in her homage to gardening, "the most emotionally involving of all the arts". The Morville Year combines "observation of nature, creative day-dreaming and scholarly musing". Jonathan Beckman thinks John Stubbs' Reprobates: the Cavaliers of the English Civil War an "outstanding achievement". His success "lies not simply in working these dramatic life stories into the larger political and religious conflicts in England" but in "show[ing] that the circumstances of poetic production are an indispensable adjunct to appreciation". "Stubbs", writes Beckman, "has rescued the Cavalier's literary reputation and tempered the most scornful excoriations of their moral character".

Vernon Bogdanor wonders why there is no definitive biography of Churchill ("that may seem like an odd question to ask"), whilst Alexandra Harris, this week's Critic at large, examines the writers' trend of attempting to narrate the story of England by exploring the histories of particular, and personal, slices of land.

All photos: BBC
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“You’re a big corporate man” The Apprentice 2015 blog: series 11, episode 8

The candidates upset some children.

WARNING: This blog is for people watching The Apprentice. Contains spoilers!

Read up on episode 7 here.

“I don’t have children and I don’t like them,” warns Selina.

An apt starting pistol for the candidates – usually so shielded from the spontaneity, joy and hope of youth by their childproof polyester uniforms – to organise children’s parties. Apparently that’s a thing now. Getting strangers in suits to organise your child’s birthday party. Outsourcing love. G4S Laser Quest. Abellio go-carting. Serco wendy houses.

Gary the supermarket stooge is project manager of team Versatile again, and Selina the child hater takes charge of team Connexus. They are each made to speak to an unhappy-looking child about the compromised fun they will be able to supply for an extortionate fee on their special days.

“So are you into like hair products and make-up?” Selina spouts at her client, who isn’t.

“Yeah, fantastic,” is Gary’s rather enthusiastic response to the mother of his client’s warning that she has a severe nut allergy.

Little Jamal is taken with his friends on an outdoor activity day by Gary’s team. This consists of wearing harnesses, standing in a line, and listening to a perpetual health and safety drill from fun young David. “Slow down, please, don’t move anywhere,” he cries, like a sad elf attempting to direct a fire drill. “Some people do call me Gary the Giraffe,” adds Gary, in a gloomy tone of voice that suggests the next half of his sentence will be, “because my tongue is black with decay”.

Selina’s team has more trouble organising Nicole’s party because they forgot to ask for her contact details. “Were we supposed to get her number or something?” asks Selina.

“Do you have the Yellow Pages?” replies Vana. Which is The Apprentice answer for everything. Smartphones are only to be used to put on loudspeaker and shout down in a frenzy.

Eventually, they get in touch, and take Nicole and pals to a sports centre in east London. I know! Sporty! And female! Bloody hell, someone organise a quaint afternoon tea for her and shower her with glitter to make her normal. Quick! Selina actually does this, cutting to a clip of Vana and Richard resentfully erecting macaroons. Selina also insists on glitter to decorate party bags full of the most gendered, pointless tat seed capital can buy.

“You’re breaking my heart,” whines Richard the Austerity Chancellor when he’s told each party bag will cost £10. “What are we putting in there – diamond rings?” Just a warning to all you ladies out there – if Richard proposes, don’t say yes.

They bundle Nicole and friends into a pink bus, for the section of her party themed around the Labour party’s failed general election campaign, and Brett valiantly screeches Hit Me Baby One More Time down the microphone to keep them entertained.

Meanwhile on the other team, Gary is quietly demonstrating glowsticks to some bored 11-year-old boys. “David, we need to get the atmosphere going,” he warns. “Ermmmmm,” says David, before misquoting the Hokey Cokey out of sheer stress.

Charleine is organising a birthday cake for Jamal. “May contain nuts,” she smiles, proudly. “Well done, Charleine, good job,” says Joseph. Not even sarcastically.

Jamal’s mother is isolated from the party and sits on a faraway bench, observing her beloved son’s birthday celebrations from a safe distance, while the team attempts to work out if there are nuts in the birthday cake.

Richard has his own culinary woes at Nicole’s party, managing both to burn and undercook burgers for the stingy barbecue he’s insisted on overriding the afternoon tea. Vana runs around helping him and picking up the pieces like a junior chef with an incompetent Gordon Ramsay. “Vana is his slave,” comments Claude, who clearly remains unsure of how to insult the candidates and must draw on his dangerously rose-tinted view of the history of oppression.

Versatile – the team that laid on some glowstick banter and a melted inky mess of iron-on photo transfers on t-shirts for Jamal and his bored friends – unsurprisingly loses. This leads to some vintage Apprentice-isms in The Bridge café, His Lordship's official caterer to losing candidates. “I don’t want to dance around a bush,” says one. “A lot of people are going to point the finger at myself,” says another’s self.

In an UNPRECEDENTED move, Lord Sugar decides to keep all four losing team members in the boardroom. He runs through how rubbish they all are. “Joseph, I do believe there has been some responsibility for you on this task.” And “David, I do believe that today you’ve got a lot to answer to.”

Lord Sugar, I do believe you’re dancing around a bush here. Who’s for the chop? It’s wee David, of course, the only nice one left.

But this doesn’t stop Sugar voicing his concern about the project manager. “I’m worried about you, Gary,” he says. “You’re a big corporate man.” Because if there’s any demographic in society for whom we should be worried, it’s them.

Candidates to watch:


Hanging on in there by his whiskers.


Far less verbose when he’s doing enforced karaoke.


She’ll ruin your party.

I'll be blogging The Apprentice each week. Click here for the previous episode blog. The Apprentice airs weekly at 9pm, Wednesday night on BBC One.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.