teamwork


We’ve introduced you to the runners and riders for this penultimate hurdles challenge of the season, and let you review their form in the paddock. So let’s get the cameras rolling and take you to West London for the Burlington Arcade Handicap Chase. And who better to set the scene than contemporary business’ very own Burlington Bertie from Bow? Lord Sugar, for it is he, sets up the challenge to create affordable luxury items. Roll up, roll up, get yer entrepreneurs ‘ere, ladies and gentlemen. (One of the candidates makes a remark about the final heat being the one to sort the men from the boys. I’d man up if I were you, Jade. Or cuff someone.)

The trick of the task is presumably in the non-sequitor. Charged with creating the product, the branding, a retail environment and an industry experts pitch, market positioning and retail strategy will be critically important here. Not so much as little nuggets of poshness for poorer people, but more as the kind of pampering items that still sell even in hard times. (The BBC has presumably slipped up somewhere on the socio-economic inequality indicators, but we’ll let it pass.)

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Something a little different this week. No whiff-whaff or studied loafing in casual attire for starters: we’re back to the 6am call, inexplicably answered by someone fully dressed, and they’re whisked off to Waterloo Station. Sadly, they’re not asked to meet Lord Alan under the clock with the rolled Telegraph, red carnation and half-chewed wasp. Instead, he appears on a huge flatscreen in a basement tunnel, grinning unusually. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be disturbing, but it looks like Sid James appearing in a version of Orwell’s 1984. Perhaps he’s smiling because he could pre-shoot, rather than hanging about at Waterloo at that time of day with this lot. That would be understandable.

Anyway, this time the teams will be picking two urban artists to represent in cutting edge galleries – which turns out to mean Brick Lane again (presumably Whitechapel Gallery wouldn’t play ball) – and attempting to complete a sale to a corporate client, who they will meet to gather information for a brief. It is mere milliseconds before the voiceover, and several of the contestants, start mentioning Banksy. The art gallery-goer in me squirms a little, until I realise that’s the point.

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5pm and the candidates are chillaxing for the cameras, as you do, when the phone rings. The cars will be arriving in 20 minutes to whisk them to what must surely be the spiritual home of The Apprentice: a wholesale warehouse in Essex. Lordalan recites his I Started My First Business In A Van psalm for the congregation. Before handing them their £150 for stock, he points out the warehouse has ‘everything a business needs to turn a profit’. Oddly no-one storms the aisles looking for the strategic plans or the common sense.

Actually, this is a time-honoured Apprentice task. (I’m saying ‘honoured’ but …) Take a punt on the first batch of stock and pick two locations. Restock once you’ve sussed the market, and biggest total sales plus stock in hand wins. It’s all abaht smellin’ wot’s sellin’. (Thank the lord – or perhaps the Lord -we’ve moved on from street food, or someone would have to make a nasty joke about Adam’s nasty little balls.)

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There was an ominous caller at the door. Not The Grim Reaper, I reminded myself, having just listened to an old Elvis Costello album that helpfully pointed out that ‘Death wears a big hat, cos he’s a big bloke’. Lordalan had arrived in person to interrupt the candidates’ jolly relaxation capers (X-box rather than whiff-whaff this week, but still hardly ‘work hard, play hard’?). Apart from looking seriously over-staged, this also had the unusual affect for The Apprentice of showing him stood with others. A minus mark on presentation for the programme makers there: the point is to make everything look bigger and more important, surely?

Anyway, for those still sentient enough to care, the task. Streetfood. Or rather “high quality food from mobile units” in the “culinary capital of Scotland”. Despite not just the Edinburgh Festival but its larger Fringe and the innumerable other events of the Scottish capital (including at least one food festival), someone thinks this kind of thing is still ‘in its infancy’. Shoot that researcher.

Judging by Jenna’s worries about people talking Scottish at her, geography teaching is in its infancy further south. (Yes dear, they do speak differently in Edinburgh. It’s because they’re educated.) Or maybe she’s been prompted to say it so we all think this is 2012’s ’11 Go Mad Abroad’ episode. Still, a bonus mark for not inflicting this nonsense on Glasgow, where the candidates might have learned some short, sharp and possibly un-broadcastable lessons.

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Many old sayings have tangled histories or ambiguous meanings that we often overlook. Is it “A friend in need is a friend in deed’, or should it end with ‘a friend indeed’? A subtle difference, you might say, or you might just snort and agree with Benny Hill that ‘a friend in need is a bloody nuisance’? One version of the phrase’s history suggests it came to us from the Latin ‘‘Amicu certus in re incerta cernitur‘, which translates rather less ambiguously as ‘a sure friend is known when in difficulty’ – it is not our ‘friend’ that is in need but us, and their friendship is revealed through their support.

It’s not the only phrase about friendship and relationships that has become a well-worn cliché. Another that springs to mind is “you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family”. And family can be a very loaded word: after all, family relationships are ones that we cannot distance ourselves from lightly, or abandon or move on from without emotional upset to at least one party. And views about the nature, meaning and importance of family are often tightly held and hotly contested.

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Irony abounds, doesn’t it? Entrepreneurial gladiators woken from their pre-dawn slumber, sleeping three or four to a room behind the surface glamour of their Bayswater mansion when there’s a Travelodge within spitting distance. A judging process that isn’t only all about sales rather than investment potential, but which also assesses income while ignoring expenditure. An episode that might have inspired us with a few remarks about the importance of physical fitness for entrepreneurial success, but which encouraged us to sit on our bottoms for an hour, possibly swilling a low calorie vodka or two. Did I miss the round where they invent new bar games and someone comes up with ‘Loser Stays On’?

The location for this week’s surprisingly poetic briefing? York Hall, famous East End boxing club. There was a ‘locally’ missing there, I thought, as some of the contenders looked like they thought Bethnal Green was one of Farrow & Ball’s new seasonal emulsion colours. Thankfully, no-one said anything to the effect of ‘the gloves are off’ or ‘seconds out’. ‘Seconds’ in this context are slightly inferior versions you buy as cheap as possible and then flog vigorously. And the task? Designing a new exercise class to license to health club chains. Jog on, I thought quietly to myself …

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It may be Olympics year in Boris Johnson’s London, but in Sugarland even whiff-whaff’s not sacred. Relaxing in some very tidily pressed casual wear during what the voiceover calls a day off, our plucky hopefuls are summoned to the phone. This is Business (possibly all in caps, with exclamation marks, maybe styled as a logo), and work-life balance isn’t one of the lessons on Lordalan’s curriculum. Mercifully, we’re spared the interjection of a talking head cameo from Michael Gove.

The task? Buying second-hand goods and reselling them in pop-up shops in Brick Lane. Brick Lane is presumably programme-maker shorthand for ‘cool’: too cool for some of the candidates, it seems, even if it’s a rather lazy symbol for some of the rest of us. (Neither is there any mention of the cost of using prime retail space, if only for a day, in a shopping strip that Time Out has been plugging for at least 15 years. Let’s just say ‘more than a market stall’.)

So, it’s basically Cash in the Attic meets Flog It! week, although when isn’t it? (The BBC? Upcycling?) The stentorian language that the ghostwriters give Lord Sugar for his intro fails to point out – or equally fails to hide – the fact that the episodes are always decided on the profit. The Apprentice isn’t so much about being back to basics as never really moving beyond them.

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