Faceless businessmen. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice screengrab
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"I’ve never bought tights in my life": The Apprentice blog series 10, episode 12

Lord Sugar’s rather laboured hunt for a new business partner finally finishes.

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

Read the episode 11 blog here.
 

At last. Like birds released, we can spread our wings and fly jubilantly away from this cage of glass and steel that has imprisoned us for 12 weeks. Away from the fiercely ironed blouses and hostile pocket handkerchiefs that is the uniform of its inmates. Away from the cruel icy-eyebrowed gaze of its guards, Karren and Nick. Far, far away from the judge (and Supreme Court judge, of course), jury and executioner, Lord Sugar.

For it is the final. To those reading who have stuck with the series throughout, congratulations, and thanks for giving it 110 per cent. To those who had long ago given up but deigned to watch the final, yer a bladdy disgrace. A bladdy disgrace. But probably have more friends than I do.

 
 
 
 

In an emotional last ever early morning wake-up call, Mark in his serious boxers picks up the banana phone one final time to be told to travel to a random London location in 20 minutes.

He and Bianca – who take separate taxis for some reason, so it may be worth scrutinising the green credentials of their respective businesses if they ever come to fruition – bomb down to the Bloomsbury Ballroom. This is because it has the supremely vague appeal of being a “leading venue for high-profile events”.

“You’ll be pleased to know that I’ve arranged some help,” says Lord Sugar, with a look of a man jollily announcing someone’s death sentence, as a motley procession of some of the series’ past most irritating candidates file in. Felipe grins. Bianca and Mark look queasier than they did at six in the morning.

They pick their teams, with Mark’s furiously clenching nemesis Daniel, pintsized brute James and petrifying lipstick enthusiast Sarah last to be chosen, and go off to launch their businesses.

Sarah is last to be chosen. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice screengrab

“Sarah, welcome aboard, we need some beauty,” says Mark, as the equality of the sexes becomes but a footnote in the history of a world dominated by faceless digital marketing men.

Bianca briefs her team on the importance of selling hosiery in different skin tones for £35 each, while Daniel works very hard at setting his face in a confused scowl and making sure everyone knows he is a MAN and knows NOTHING about tights. “I’ve personally not worn tights,” he growls anxiously to camera, doing a good impression of someone who protests too much, “in fact, I’ve never bought tights in my life”.

And it soon looks like women won’t be buying them either. Well, not Bianca’s ones anyway. Her market research – a room full of businesswomen with legs of all different hues – shows very strongly that her aim for the “luxury market” (ie. ripping people off) is misjudged. They wouldn’t buy such expensive tights. “It’s important that people know the truth about this,” cries Lauren, her concern about getting a ladder extending to the whole of humanity.

Access deniered. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice screengrab

Meanwhile, Mark is putting together his dull digital something-or-other plan to do the same thing as those marketing people who hassle companies about making their online presence more “impactful”, but even more intensely. Face-to-face hassling.

It’s called “Climb Online”, and the promo video features builders and dentists scaling a climbing wall talking unconvincingly about how much they love people pitching to them about having their companies appear higher up in Google searches.

Then it’s time for the pitches, in which “an audience of experts” fills a cavernous function room to look menacingly at the candidate in question, and act as Lord Sugar’s gaggle of sycophants at the after-party, when they gather around what looks like garden furniture, drinking warm wine and discussing things like how “lots of people would buy tights in different colours” and “lots of people are doing the internets these days”.

Unsuitable entertainment. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice screengrab

Bianca gives a slick, solid performance, and the audience of experts coo and purr. Mark, stricken with stage-fright, is rather hesitant at first, clearing his throat in what ominously sounds like it will be a repeat of the disastrous pitchto Tesco he croaked and choked through a couple of weeks ago.

But he gets over it and delivers a passable, if staid, presentation. The only thing that jazzes it up is Solomon and James’ idea of having men in blue and orange lycra Morph suits climbing and falling in an interpretative dance to open the event. It’s everything that is wrong with the modern age: onesies and meaningless digital marketing strategies. But afterwards, the audience of “online giants”, who are disappointingly average height, sing Mark’s praises to Lord Sugar.

We end, as we always do, in the boardroom. There’s time for one final unnecessary sexist comment (Nick on seeing a real-life woman wearing tights: “Mr Hewer had minor palpitations”), one final mangled metaphor (Sir Alan: “singing the song for high quality, you make a rod for your back”), and one final firing. Bianca goes, and Mark wins the investment, as Lord Sugar decides, “the devil in me says the service industry”. Ooh, you devil you.

Putting the Mark in marketing. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

I've been blogging The Apprentice each week. This is the last instalment. Read my blog on the previous episode here. Click here to read the whole series. 

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Hunter Skipworth / Moment
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Cones and cocaine: the ice cream van's links with organised crime

A cold war is brewing to the tinkling of "Greensleeves".

Anyone who has spent a summer in this country will be familiar with the Pavlovian thrill the first tinny notes of “Greensleeves” stir within the stolid British breast.

The arrival of the ice cream van – usually at least two decades older than any other vehicle on the road, often painted with crude approximations of long-forgotten cartoon characters and always, without fail, exhorting fellow motorists to “Mind that child!” – still feels like a simple pleasure of the most innocent kind.

The mobile ice cream trade, though, has historical links with organised crime.

Not only have the best routes been the subject of many, often violent turf wars, but more than once lollies have served as cover for goods of a more illicit nature, most notoriously during the Glasgow “Ice Cream Wars” of the early 1980s, in which vans were used as a front for fencing stolen goods and dealing drugs, culminating in an arson attack that left six people dead.

Although the task force set up to tackle the problem was jokingly nicknamed the “Serious Chimes Squad” by the press, the reality was somewhat less amusing. According to Thomas “T C” Campbell, who served almost 20 years for the 1984 murders before having his conviction overturned in 2004, “A lot of my friends were killed . . . I’ve been caught with axes, I’ve been caught with swords, open razors, every conceivable weapon . . . meat cleavers . . . and it was all for nothing, no gain, nothing to it, just absolute madness.”

Tales of vans being robbed at gunpoint and smashed up with rocks abounded in the local media of the time and continue to pop up – a search for “ice cream van” on Google News throws up the story of a Limerick man convicted last month of supplying “wholesale quantities” of cocaine along with ice cream. There are also reports of the Mob shifting more than 40,000 oxycodone pills through a Lickety Split ice cream van on Staten Island between 2009 and 2010.

Even for those pushing nothing more sinister than a Strawberry Split, the ice cream business isn’t always light-hearted. BBC Radio 4 devoted an entire programme last year to the battle for supremacy between a local man who had been selling ice creams in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea since 1969 and an immigrant couple – variously described in the tabloids as Polish and Iraqi but who turned out to be Greek – who outbid him when the council put the contract out to tender. The word “outsiders” cropped up more than once.

This being Britain, the hostilities in Northumberland centred around some rather passive-aggressive parking – unlike in Salem, Oregon, where the rivalry from 2009 between an established local business and a new arrival from Mexico ended in a highish-speed chase (for an ice cream van) and a showdown in a car park next to a children’s playground. (“There’s no room for hate in ice cream,” one of the protagonists claimed after the event.) A Hollywood production company has since picked up the rights to the story – which, aptly, will be co-produced by the man behind American Sniper.

Thanks to competition from supermarkets (which effortlessly undercut Mister Softee and friends), stricter emission laws in big cities that have hit the UK’s ageing fleet particularly hard, and tighter regulations aimed at combating childhood obesity, the trade isn’t what it used to be. With margins under pressure and a customer base in decline, could this summer mark the start of a new cold war?

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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