Daniel displaying his hard-nosed business skills. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice
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Welcome to The Apprentice blog: series 10, episode 1

The Apprentice is back for its 10th year. “You’re tired!” sums up the format, but dedicated viewers of the show won’t mind a bit.

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

It’s the 10th year of The Apprentice. And all through that sweaty, starchy, 110 per cent-executive-decision-making decade, it’s clear the producers have judged its loyal fans correctly. Hardly anything about the format has changed. “You’re tired!” will be the judgment of many snarky viewers as they switch over with a sigh to something more rewarding and less brimming with hollow pastiches of turgid Foxtons estate agents, but for those who love it regardless, there are 12 weeks ahead of pure, idiotic bliss.

The phrase “one hundred per cent” is heard after just nine minutes of watching the first episode, closely followed by “skill-set” at a competitive 17 minutes. “Dog-eat-dog” comes in at a disappointing 58 minutes, but we can forgive the programme makers, because everything else comfortingly follows exactly the premise of all previous series.

Except one thing.

That wicked grizzly business bear Alan Sugar has played a wildcard this year. We now have 20 candidates to mock and despair of, rather than 16 – so there could be more than one firing in each episode.

Dedicated viewers will have witnessed the gibbering drama of a double firing before, of course, but this new factor is intended to spice up the next 12 weeks of the 10th series. As if the show needs it, with the first episode hurtling head-on into classic Apprentice pathos with lines like, “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’, but there’s five in ‘individual brilliance’” and “I’m going to make a fundamental decision here – we’re going to the balloon shop.”

Meat and greet. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

As with every opening episode of an Apprentice series, the men and women are separated into teams, welcomed into a lovely London townhouse where they will stay for the duration, woken up the next morning at 4am by a shrill telephone hurriedly answered by someone unconvincingly semi-clothed clearly with a pair of buffed brogues on out of shot, given 15 minutes to shriek playfully and deploy barbed teambuilding-related asides at each other, and then herded into power-taxis to somewhere gleaming in central London.

There’s a lot of gleaming going on in this episode. Every shot panning London is a series of the capital’s most glistening, vaguely phallic edifices, until the camera reluctantly lands on the Bridge Café ­– the losers’ suburban haunt, which gives away what everyone knows anyway: real business is executed in a hangar in West Acton.

This episode’s task is to do what is apparently “10 years of selling” – I think this is a nod to the sales tasks of the past decade on the Apprentice but I was too excited at this stage to be concentrating in one day.

But first, the girls and boys have to choose a project manager and a team name – a pair of tasks equal in their controversy and hilarity.

When Apprentice candidates choose team names, it’s a bit like watching a circle of intensely competitive apes in tailored suits playing Articulate. They just say words. Wrong words. With conviction. The boys go for “Summit”. “It’s never been done!” cries the man who came up with it. I didn’t note down his name, as I’m pretty sure he’s likely to be tumbling off the summit soon.

Then the girls seem to inadvertently invent the branding for a pre-crash Tory online dating site by going for “Decadence”. “Playing on the word ‘decade’”, says one, hopefully. In an unprecedented intervention, Lord Sugar tells them to come up with another name for the next episode.

This follows Nick Hewer – who spends the episode looking like a quiet voice in his head is asking him what he’s doing with his life and why he hasn’t found a mild, steady slot on Radio 4 to bed into until retirement – telling the girls “decadence” smacks of “decay, decline, moral turpitude and self-indulgence”. Surely an Apprentice hopeful’s ultimate pitch for appearing on the show, amiright?

Bitter lemons. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

The boys’ team leader is Felipe – a former lawyer at a magic circle firm, hapless but well-meaning. It’s much worse for the girls, who opt for Sarah, who has depressingly offensive ideas about women in the workplace and chopping up citrus fruit for profit.

There follows a frenzy of suits scampering up and down the nonplussed markets of London, attempting to sell potatoes, spruce up sausages (some ill-conceived Planet Organic guacamole-purchasing occurs, pioneered by the candidate Robert who whacks out some sock-free business loafers and a boating blazer on day one), and print slogan t-shirts (“but ‘Positive Impact’ doesn’t mean anything to people!”).

The girls make a disastrous mistake by forgetting to send their sub-team (ie. group of side-lined and potentially mutinous women) off with the seed capital (ie. some cash) to the t-shirt printers. But the boys do one worse and leave their t-shirts at the printers altogether, throwing £500 away.

There is also a harrowing image, accompanied by the uniquely ominous minor chords reserved on this programme for inadequate entrepreneurs, of a solitary sponge the boys accidentally drop in the road. This doesn’t come up in the boardroom later but it still gave me chills. The girls, in contrast, inexplicably try to sell their sponges, a bucket and some toilet brushes for £250 to some hassled penguin minders at London Zoo.

Felipe’s team loses, but only by about £50. This leads to much soul-searching among the boys, with the perpetually outraged Stephen scapegoated for being a disruptive character. He’s the one who tries to sell spuds with the pitch: “It’s not going to be just a potato, it’s going to be an experience”, and is therefore inevitably saved from the boardroom, probably at the behest of some ratings-racked producers.

In the end, Chiles – the sub-team leader who left the t-shirts behind – is given Lord Sugar’s pointy finger of doom. It was a close one though, with Robert nearly getting the chop for his “arty farty” ideas about dressing up frankfurters. But he was saved too, probably because of the endless material Lord Sugar’s incessant iteration of the word “hotdog” is sure to provide Cassetteboy.

Chiles (right) is the first to be sacrificed on the altar of show-business. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

The girls, in turn, got to spend half an hour slowly rotating in a claustrophobic pod full of 20 strangers who hate one another, as a treat for winning. Yes, Sir Al in characteristic munificence had “laid on” the London Eye’s VIP capsule for them.

With just the right cocktail of the obnoxious and talentless, and a frantic, meaningless task for them to attempt, this first episode is a reassuringly ridiculous sign of things to come. Let’s just thank Lord Sugar, poor old Nick and top TV Tory Karren Brady for laying on another series for us.

 

Candidates to watch:

Stephen

“If we went to Mars right now, I’d find a way to be excellent”.

He’s an “irritant”, according to Lord Sugar, who saved him. He was also rather unfairly scapegoated by his team. He’s sure to provide further drama, and perhaps even more florid pitches than his potato plea, in weeks to come.

Sarah

She can, inevitably, sell “ice to an eskimo”.

The girls didn’t like her leadership, possibly because she kept telling them to put make-up on and hike their skirts up for the sales task, but she’s likely to cling on for a while because of the morbid fascination factor.

Scott

Who?

 

I'll be blogging The Apprentice each week. Click here to follow it. The next episode is tomorrow evening, so check back on Thursday morning for the next instalment.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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There is nothing compassionate about Britain’s Dickensian tolerance of begging

I was called “heartless” for urging police to refer beggars to support services. But funding drug habits to salve a liberal conscience is the truly cruel approach.

In Rochdale, like many other towns across the country, we’re working hard to support small businesses and make our high streets inviting places for people to visit. So it doesn’t help when growing numbers of aggressive street beggars are becoming a regular fixture on the streets, accosting shoppers.

I’ve raised this with the police on several occasions now and when I tweeted that they needed to enforce laws preventing begging and refer them to appropriate services, all hell broke loose on social media. I was condemned as heartless, evil and, of course, the favourite insult of all left-wing trolls, “a Tory”.

An article in the Guardian supported this knee-jerk consensus that I was a typically out-of-touch politician who didn’t understand the underlying reasons for begging and accused me of being “misguided” and showing “open disdain” for the poor. 

The problem is, this isn’t true, as I know plenty about begging.

Before I became an MP, I worked as a researcher for The Big Issue and went on to set up a social research company that carried out significant research on street begging, including a major report that was published by the homeless charity, Crisis.

When I worked at The Big Issue, the strapline on the magazine used to say: “Working not Begging”. This encapsulated its philosophy of dignity in work and empowering people to help themselves. I’ve seen many people’s lives transformed through the work of The Big Issue, but I’ve never seen one person’s life transformed by thrusting small change at them as they beg in the street.

The Big Issue’s founder, John Bird, has argued this position very eloquently over the years. Giving to beggars helps no one, he says. “On the contrary, it locks the beggar in a downward spiral of abject dependency and victimhood, where all self-respect, honesty and hope are lost.”

Even though he’s now doing great work in the House of Lords, much of Bird’s transformative zeal is lost on politicians. Too many on the right have no interest in helping the poor, while too many on the left are more interested in easing their conscience than grappling with the hard solutions required to turn chaotic lives around.

But a good starting point is always to examine the facts.

The Labour leader of Manchester City Council, Richard Leese, has cited evidence that suggests that 80 per cent of street beggars in Manchester are not homeless. And national police figures have shown that fewer than one in five people arrested for begging are homeless.

Further research overwhelmingly shows the most powerful motivating force behind begging is to fund drug addiction. The homeless charity, Thames Reach, estimates that 80 per cent of beggars in London do so to support a drug habit, particularly crack cocaine and heroin, while drug-testing figures by the Metropolitan Police on beggars indicated that between 70 and 80 per cent tested positive for Class A drugs.

It’s important to distinguish that homelessness and begging can be very different sets of circumstances. As Thames Reach puts it, “most rough sleepers don’t beg and most beggars aren’t rough sleepers”.

And this is why they often require different solutions.

In the case of begging, breaking a chaotic drug dependency is hard and the important first step is arrest referral – ie. the police referring beggars on to specialised support services.  The police approach to begging is inconsistent – with action often only coming after local pressure. For example, when West Midlands Police received over 1,000 complaints about street begging, a crackdown was launched. This is not the case everywhere, but only the police have the power to pick beggars up and start a process that can turn their lives around.

With drug-related deaths hitting record levels in England and Wales in recent years, combined with cuts to drug addiction services and a nine per cent cut to local authority health budgets over the next three years, all the conditions are in place for things to get a lot worse.

This week there will be an important homelessness debate in Parliament, as Bob Blackman MP's Homelessness Reduction Bill is due to come back before the House of Commons for report stage. This is welcome legislation, but until we start to properly distinguish the unique set of problems and needs that beggars have, I fear begging on the streets will increase.

Eighteen years ago, I was involved in a report called Drugs at the Sharp End, which called on the government to urgently review its drug strategy. Its findings were presented to the government’s drugs czar Keith Hellawell on Newsnight and there was a sense that the penny was finally dropping.

I feel we’ve gone backwards since then. Not just in the progress that has been undone through services being cut, but also in terms of general attitudes towards begging.

A Dickensian tolerance of begging demonstrates an appalling Victorian attitude that has no place in 21st century Britain. Do we really think it’s acceptable for our fellow citizens to live as beggars with no real way out? And well-meaning displays of “compassion” are losing touch with pragmatic policy. This well-intentioned approach is starting to become symptomatic of the shallow, placard-waving gesture politics of the left, which helps no one and has no connection to meaningful action.

If we’re going make sure begging has no place in modern Britain, then we can’t let misguided sentiment get in the way of a genuine drive to transform lives through evidenced-based effective policy.

Simon Danczuk is MP for Rochdale.