All-American Apprentice. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice
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"A metaphor for success and the American Dream": The Apprentice blog series 10, episode 7

Candidates hop on a plane to the city that never... invests.

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

Read the episode 6 blog here.
 

Opening to some triumphant brass and percussion, scanning a forest of parachute-sized Star-Spangled Banners curled around golden flagposts, the camera eventually lands on a video link to Alan Sugar. A special fanfare heralds the onscreen grand-high grouch and his “urgent business elsewhere”. We meet him, flanked by real-life Karren and Nick, in a marble jungle somewhere in the American Embassy on Grosvenor Square.

The candidates are off to break America. To break its slick, corporate heart with their cobbled-together money-losing schemes, that is.

Cleverly, Sugar decides only a few are allowed tickets to New York, which leads to the kind of passive-aggressiveness that is a core principle of this programme: conversing snippily across an awkward line of people in the back of a cab. “I’m so excited,” sings Felipe, his jolly little eyes creasing in anticipation of the bright lights of the Big Apple. “We can’t all go,” Katie smiles tightly.

Product placement. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Oh, I nearly forgot to mention – as if it matters – the task, which is to launch a new soft drink in America, where I think we’d all agree there is an untapped market for such products. Those poor guys’ throats are just a parched wasteland, aren’t they? Never once touched by so much as a trickle of cool, vaguely radioactive, Mountain Dew.

“I work in advertising,” lies Mark, becoming project manager of Team Tenacity and securing his seat on the plane. “I’m the obvious choice to go the US,” says Lauren, which somehow works too. They are joined, merrily and redundantly, by Felipe.

On the Summit side, James yaps, “I think Americans would love me,” which is probably true but a highly dubious accolade nonetheless. So he gets to go, along with project manager and nemesis Bianca ­– Solomon is the amicable sidekick, a teenager remaining desperately upbeat on holiday with rowing parents.

Those poor souls who aren’t allowed to go to New York, and have to stay behind slumming it in their laid-on Hampstead mansion instead, are in charge of the creative side of things: standing awkwardly in a lab tasting essence of dragon fruit and then packaging the ensuing juice.

Daniel, whose imagination when it comes to women stretches to them probably enjoying being asked out by text over a chicken salad, is left to do the imagining bit in this task too. Why? He decides “Aqua Fusion” is a great name, which sounds like one of those stressful waterparks off the motorway, and then designs the bottle with a logo in yellow nineties bubble writing, peppered with some cartoon fruit pictures off Clipart. That pink Um Bongo hippo is going to want royalties.

Proudly adding the finishing touches, Daniel probably adds a drop-shadow in the height of his PowerPoint-inspired creativity. I wonder if the business plan he submits to Lord Sugar has that little wisecracking animated paperclip on it somewhere.

“Explosion of water and pineapple,” is his description over the phone to the US-based teammates. “I will back you 100 per cent,” says Mark, which sounds like he missed out the words “stab” and “in the”. But it’s hard to tell. The transatlantic line is crackly.

Net contribution. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Roisin and Sanjay, the two calmest contestants ever to glide through seven episodes of The Apprentice without asserting impossible percentages through gritted teeth, make up Team Summit’s London HQ. They have a very sensible fruit-tasting experience in the laboratory, a suitably cool design session with a man wearing his polo shirt buttoned up to the top who has an edgy office cat, and come up with “Big Dawg”. It’s not as bad as it sounds, considering in real life you can buy “Yoga Bunny Detox” or “Red Bull” depending on your mood. “This isn’t a dog campaign,” Bianca reminds us.

What ensues is that spinecringing horrorshow when Apprentice teams have to direct advertisements (anyone remember “that’s not the English sparkling wine I ordered. IT’S DISGUSTING” and “Friendship… and Flowers” from previous years? Not to mention “Octi-Kleen”).

Felipe creates a lovely happy all-American family situation, by casting a 28-year-old lawyer from Blackpool as a lovelorn teenage girl and a boy who can’t catch as a basketball fan. The other team directs a soulless series of men talking awkwardly to camera calling themselves “Big Dawgs” with little conviction to a soundtrack of disappointed silence. “It’s a metaphor for success and the American Dream,” explains Bianca, as the camera homes in on Solomon, squinting in a polyester pink shirt.

Casting and squinting like pros. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Before presenting their drinks to trade experts, who merely make silly remarks about phallic symbols and generally shame the reputation of the squeaky-clean soft drinks industry, the candidates bumble along to Times Square. Here, they see their products lit up for every tourist in the city who is craning their neck and standing in someone’s way to see. “This world is as big as our oyster – as big as we wanna be,” is James’ input. So around 3-14 inches. Felipe weeps.

Cry for the camera. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Back in the boardroom, we hear the second mention of erectile dysfunction this series – perhaps an unfortunate symptom of this show’s old and tired format? – as, like those smutty industry insiders, Sugar sees Big Dawg’s bone logo as something rather less refreshing. He also finds Team Summit’s commercial “a complete and utter joke.” But they win anyway, and the candidates skip off to do some other weird treat that you would only find on those lesser-known voucher websites that pretend to be Groupon. I can’t remember what it is now.

There follows a harrowing boardroom scene where two awful, ubersensitive males bulldoze through anything anyone else is saying, savagely tear chunks out of each other to the point where it’s screamingly obvious Sugar should just fire them both on the spot, and so he lets Lauren go. “My instinct and gut feeling,” is his explanation that sort of renders the entire task obsolete. Which has been my gut feeling all along.

 

Candidates to watch
 

Katie

How is she getting away with doing absolutely nothing? Perhaps by doing fractionally more than Felipe?

Roisin

Masterfully disparaging of James and also expertly at once sympathetic and despairing towards Sanjay: “Sanjay, if you listen to anything James says then you’re a fool.”

James

I don’t think The Apprentice will be as big as his oyster for much longer.

I'll be blogging The Apprentice each week. Click here to follow it. Read my blog on the previous episode here. The show will air weekly on Wednesday evenings at 9pm on BBC One. Check back for the next instalments every Thursday morning.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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How Dame Vera Lynn was told to “posh her accent up”

Radio 2’s 100th-birthday tribute reveals how Lynn was forced to change her voice.

“I remember seeing her near an elephant, and this elephant rolled over a bit and she had to get out of the way . . .” Vic Knibb, the vice-chairman of the veterans’ group the Burma Star Association, was one of the thousands of British soldiers serving in the Far East during the Second World War who came across Vera Lynn in the jungle, singing from the back of a Jeep, accompanied by an out-of-tune piano.

Speaking in Radio 2’s celebration of the singer’s 100th birthday, Vera Lynn: the Sweetheart of the United Kingdom (Sunday 19 March, 8pm), Knibb and others recalled what it meant to them that Lynn travelled so far to perform for the so-called Forgotten Army in Burma. Unlike other entertainers, who stayed in Europe or visited only military hospitals in the UK, she deliberately went where few others did – where she felt she was needed by “the boys”.

The programme, which featured a rare interview with Lynn herself, was dominated by clips of her recordings from the Thirties and Forties. We heard frequent extracts from “The White Cliffs of Dover”, “We’ll Meet Again” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”. The contrast between these two voices, separated by more than six decades, was the most arresting thing this otherwise pedestrian documentary had to offer. The now gravelly-voiced centenarian sang, in her youth, with a smooth, effortless-sounding tone and crystal-clear diction. But how did the cockney daughter of a plumber from East Ham end up singing with received pronunciation?

The answer, as ever in Britain, is class. Lynn had no formal musical training, and as she had been performing in working men’s clubs from the age of seven, she was considered closer to a musical-hall crooner than a “proper” singer. But with her small vocal range and flawless self-taught technique, she chose her own songs to suit her voice. The BBC, for which she made her hugely popular radio show Sincerely Yours, requested that she take elocution lessons to “posh her accent up” and even at one point took her show off air for 18 months. “Every­body’s Sweetheart” wasn’t immune from snobbishness, it seems. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution