Hey, Sir Alan – leave those kids alone

I come back to the Hovel after a frugal evening out to find Razors watching Junior Apprentice on the telly. He works punishing hours - nine till five-ish - and so he's entitled to watch any old garbage he wants. Assuming that this is chewing gum for the eyes and nothing he's paying much attention to, I take a phone call without leaving the room. So imagine my astonishment when he says "Shh!" at me. Actually, I'm not astonished at first; I just assume he's joking. So after giving him a puzzled look, I carry on, and blow me down with a feather if he doesn't say "Shh!" again. Blimey, he means it.

I conclude my phone call outside and then come back in and try to see where the appeal resides. What I see is "Sir" Alan Sugar giving a bollocking to a dwarfish adolescent with, as Evelyn Waugh once put it, a face of ageless evil.

Next to him is a larger boy who has unwisely decided to cover the entire lower portion of his face with bum fluff. On the other side is a young, fairly pretty blonde girl.

I begin to glimpse part of this programme's appeal to Razors ("They should call this Barely Legal Apprentice," he says at one point, a remark I pass on to you without comment), but surely that's not enough?

But as I watch closely, I start to understand the fascination, if that is the word. I cannot catch a single thing anyone is saying, as they are all either talking in business jargon or mouthing vapid garbage like "bringing something to the party", despite there being no party in sight. But I certainly grasp the full, pure horror of what is going on: the unpunished corruption of young minds.

At which point, we enter murky philosophical (or even theological) waters. Are these tiny capitalists being turned towards evil by "Sir" Alan Sugar, or were they already evil to begin with? Augustine tells us that evil is against nature and that when God created the devil, He was aware of both his future wickedness and the good that would eventually come of it. But I don't see any good coming out of Sugar or his ghastly protégés.

The dwarf I saw "Sir" Alan shouting at was fired by him for no good reason that I could gather - he had behaved with the venal amorality that I would have thought was the indispensable characteristic of the successful businessman. Indeed, when being chauffeured away in the inevitable Roller, he gave us a tearful speech about how he was now fired up to take over the world, and mark my words, we are all going to be groaning beneath his heel in 20 years, tops.

Charm offensive

The thing is, you either have the entrepreneurial gene, or you don't. Razors and I once thought it would be a laugh to go on The Apprentice and give "Sir" Alan a brain haemorrhage by both fucking up whatever stupid task he gave us and refusing to be cowed by his bullying manner (or else succeeding in our set tasks through intelligence and nonchalant charm, instead of acting like jerks), but we couldn't even be bothered to apply.

It isn't hereditary; my great friend T -- , whose affability and generosity are boundless, is the son of a man who tried his hand at everything, from running hotels in Epping to nightclubs in Soho to a doughnut stall in, I think, Worthing. Not even complete lack of knowledge could stop him: he even - and I swear this is true - claimed at one point to have cracked cold fusion. I forget whether this was before or after the doughnut stall.

But it is going too far, I think, when people barely old enough to shave are being encouraged to demean themselves in the pursuit of a really superfluous amount of money. The question is not, as G K Chesterton said somewhere, of being clever enough to get it, but of being stupid enough to want it, and the desire to accrue wealth beyond an elegant sufficiency is the cause of almost all the woes of the world. Or, at least, the root of all evil.

Well, that's one of the ways I console myself.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 07 June 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The myth of Mandela