Interview blues. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice
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“My CV’s probably under-exaggerated”: The Apprentice blog series 10, episode 11

The final five candidates are interviewed by people even more obnoxious than they are.

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

Read the episode 10 blog here.

We’ve reached the interviews stage, and all our favourite interrogators – plus a new angry face – have been laid on by Lord Sugar to pretend they’re qualified to level cruel put-downs and personal attacks at the perpetually embattled final five candidates.

There’s good old Bald Man Frothing with Malice (special skill: looking things up on Companies House using his computer), the trusty Haughty Media MD with Glass Orb (special skill: looking simultaneously smug and slightly concerned about her desk ornaments), old favourite That Guy Who Owns Shortlist (special skill: “reading between the lines”, apparently. Probably not of Shortlist though), and surprise newcomer Stunned Former Apprentice Winner (special skill: being allowed on telly during his lunchbreak).

A double-edged Claude. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

But before they face this high-altitude, low-quality recruitment process at the top of the Leadenhall Building (that’s the Cheesegrater to Londoners. And giants.), the contestants must put the finishing touches on their business plans.

This process involves each of the final five sitting separately looking perplexed over a lap of bumpf in a variety of showrooms in their Highgate mansion. Here’s Daniel, squelching over some projections beside a tropical plant and ostentatiously posing fruitbowl. There’s Roisin, her documents illuminated by a willowy statement lamp. Solomon pores over a page of figures on some ergonomic garden furniture. It’s a bit like a Habitat advert specifically targeting young professionals on the brink of redundancy.

The resident cameraman roams the house, asking each candidate how they feel about making it this far. In an emotional clip, Roisin weeps openly to camera about leaving her accountancy job “to do this”. It’s difficult to tell if she’s crying over how much the process means to her, or the stability, money and dignity she threw away by resigning.

Eventually, the five of them – Roisin, Solomon, Daniel, Mark and Bianca – gather in the twinkling Cheesegrater for a pep talk from his Sugary Lordship. Gesturing to their surroundings, he tells them, “like you, it’s not open for business yet,” in a rather obscene-sounding simile.

Roisin won't be choosing Pret's Classic Tomato soup for lunch. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

The candidates are told they will receive a grilling from Sugar's pack of aggressive advisers. “Sounds easy – NOT,” says Daniel, evoking the Nineties, as he swaggers off to his first interview. “Daniel’s the best to go first,” smirks Mark. “If you go after him, you look good, don’t you?”

What proceeds is a succession of people saying tragic things about CVs in uncomfortably-lit rooms. “I look at CVs day-in, day-out,” says Ricky Martin, a former Apprentice winner who sounds like he’s really living the business partnership dream. Living la vida loca, even. “My CV’s probably under-exaggerated,” says Daniel, modestly, having written that he won the Salesperson of the Year award – which he didn't. Sorry, I mean, "NOT".

Daniel won Salesperson of the Year. Not. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Roisin doesn’t do any better in her interview with the Shortlist boss, as she is faced with a pot noodle of shattered dreams on his desk and discovers her “unique” healthy ready meals are already on the market. Or perhaps she’s just really distressed because she’s wearing all white – a bad time to negotiate a noodle dish.

“Ideas generation” advocate Solomon is asked to read out some ideas from his phone. He must have been Googling bed-and-breakfasts, because he suggests both a delivery service of food to one’s house for breakfast in bed, and a place where you can pay to go to sleep.

But his toughest challenge is when he ascends to the sky-high office of infamous long-eared Claude Littner, whose already notably long ears extend even further in fury at the 23-year-old’s eight-page business plan. “It’s a bloody disgrace,” spits Claude, as Solomon crumples like a puppy being kicked. “You can leave. Pictures of sail boats! Pictures of sail boats!” he yells, like a crazed ClipArt user. “You’re taking the piss. Please leave.”

Bianca's lament. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

And if emotions are running high in Claude’s cloud box, they’re even higher when Bianca faces Ricky Martin. It seems to be an executive decision going forward ­– probably via a group Outlook conversation in which the interviewers reach out to one another – that Bianca is “hiding behind a mask” and repressing her personality.

This consensus leads to her on-screen psychological disintegration: “Oh my God, am I hiding something? I don’t know.” She then weeps to Martin as they debate what should be included in the price of paying for a recruitment consultant. A sad lone piano tinkles in the background as she wipes her eyes, and it all goes a bit X Factor.

“I’m more confident than ever,” says Mark, who doesn’t seem to receive as comprehensive a rollicking as his competitors.

Back in the boardroom, Lord Sugar’s advisers decide Solomon is a bit immature, Roisin and Daniel’s business plans are fundamentally flawed, and that there’s a lucrative place in the market for Bianca’s idea for different skin tones of hosiery (“I did some research, which I found quite pleasant,” grunts Claude, his ears lengthening lasciviously).

Daniel does his final signature clench-pout, before he’s booted off because no one wants to use his weird online wedding planning service; Solomon goes because his “fulfilment” business doesn’t fulfil Sugar’s criteria; Roisin is fired because she doesn’t seem to understand the basic fact that, “to fight for the space in the chillers in the supermarket, it’s like golddust, like Mayfair real estate”. Think of that next time you reach wearily for a treat from Dr Oetker.

Mark and Bianca survive for the final, as the dawn rises in gold-tinged hope over the Shard: God smiling upon us in the knowledge that there’s only one bloody episode left.

Two's company. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice


Candidates to watch


Because he’s in the final.


Because she’s in the final.

All the rest

Because they come back for the final.

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 instalment every Thursday morning.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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The City of London was never the same after the "Big Bang"

Michael Howard reviews Iain Martin's new book on the legacy of the financial revolution 30 years on.

We are inundated with books that are, in effect, inquests on episodes of past failure, grievous mistakes in policy decisions and shortcomings of leadership. So it is refreshing to read this lively account of a series of actions that add up to one of the undoubted, if not undisputed, successes of modern ­government action.

Iain Martin has marked the 30th anniversary of the City’s Big Bang, which took place on 27 October 1986, by writing what he bills as the inside story of a financial revolution that changed the world. Yet his book ranges far and wide. He places Big Bang in its proper context in the history of the City of London, explaining, for example, and in some detail, the development of the financial panics of 1857 and 1873, as well as more recent crises with which we are more familiar.

Big Bang is the term commonly applied to the changes in the London Stock Exchange that followed an agreement reached between Cecil Parkinson, the then secretary of state for trade and industry, and Nicholas Goodison, the chairman of the exchange, shortly after the 1983 election. The agreement provided for the dismantling of many of the restrictive practices that had suited the cosy club of those who had made a comfortable living on the exchange for decades. It was undoubtedly one of the most important of the changes made in the early 1980s that equipped the City of London to become the world’s pre-eminent centre of international capital that it is today.

But it was not the only one. There was the decision early in the life of the Thatcher government to dismantle foreign-exchange restrictions, as well as the redevelopment of Docklands, which provided room for the physical expansion of the City (which was so necessary for the influx of foreign banks that followed the other changes).

For the first change, Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson, at the Treasury at the time, deserve full credit, particularly as Margaret Thatcher was rather hesitant about the radical nature of the change. The second was a result of Michael Heseltine setting up the London Docklands Development Corporation, which assumed planning powers that were previously in the hands of the local authorities in the area. Canary Wharf surely would not exist today had that decision not been made – and even though the book gives a great deal of well-deserved credit to the officials and developers who took up the baton, Heseltine’s role is barely mentioned. Rarely is a politician able to see the physical signs of his legacy so clearly. Heseltine would be fully entitled to appropriate Christopher Wren’s epitaph: “Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.”

These changes are often criticised for having opened the gates to unbridled capitalism and greed and Martin, while acknow­ledging the lasting achievements of the new regime, also explores its downside. Arguably, he sometimes goes too far. Are the disparities in pay that we now have a consequence of Big Bang? Can it be blamed for the increase in the pay of footballers? This is doubtful. Surely these effects owe more to market forces, in the case of footballers, and shortcomings in corporate governance, in the case of executive pay. (It will be interesting to see whether the attempts by the current government to address the latter achieve the desired results.)

Martin deals with the allegation that the changes brought in a new world in which moneymaking could be given full rein without the need to abide by any significant regulation. This is far from the truth. My limited part in bringing about these changes was the responsibility I was handed, in my first job in government, for steering through parliament what became the Financial Services Act 1986. This was intended to provide statutory underpinning for a system of self-regulation by the various sectors of the financial industry. It didn’t work out exactly as I had intended but, paradoxically, one of the main criticisms of the regulatory system made in the book is that we now have a system that is too legalistic. Rather dubious comparisons are made with a largely mythical golden age, when higher standards of conduct were the order of the day without any need for legal constraints. The history of insider dealing (and the all-too-recently recognised need to legislate to make this unlawful) gives the lie to this rose-tinted picture of life in the pre-Big Bang City.

As Martin rightly stresses, compliance with the law is not enough. People also need to take into account the moral implications of their conduct. However, there are limits to the extent to which governments can legislate on this basis. The law can provide the basic parameters within which legal behaviour is to be constrained. Anything above and beyond that must be a matter for individual conscience, constrained by generally accepted standards of morality.

The book concludes with an attempt at an even-handed assessment of the likely future for the City in the post-Brexit world. There are risks and uncertainties. Mercifully, Martin largely avoids a detailed discussion of the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive and its effect on “passporting”, which allows UK financial services easy access to the European Economic Area. But surely the City will hold on to its pre-eminence as long as it retains its advantages as a place to conduct business? The European banks and other institutions that do business in London at present don’t do so out of love or affection. They do so because they are able to operate there with maximum efficiency.

The often rehearsed advantages of London – the time zone, the English language, the incomparable professional infrastructure – will not go away. It is not as if there is an abundance of capital available in the banks of the EU: Europe’s business and financial institutions cannot afford to dispense with the services that London has to offer. As Martin puts it in the last sentences of the book, “All one can say is: the City will survive, and prosper. It usually does.”

Crash Bang Wallop is not flawless. (One of its amusing errors is to refer, in the context of a discussion of the difficulties faced by the firm Slater Walker, to one of its founders as Jim Walker, a name that neither Jim Slater nor Peter Walker, the actual founders, would be likely to recognise.) Yet it is a thoroughly readable account of one of the most important and far-reaching decisions of modern government, and a timely reminder of how the City of London got to where it is now.

Michael Howard is a former leader of the Conservative Party

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood