The most startling moment of this episode – officially called, with blinding insight, Flat-Pack – happened a few minutes in, and I’ve been trying to have my retinas repaired ever since. Earlier in the series than usual, The Apprentice played the ‘everyone was relaxing at home on a day off, with a camera crew – as you do’ trope, and the remaining 14 contenders (I use the word loosely) suddenly found themselves with thirty minutes to reapply the bling. Girls scampered along luxury corridors, hectically searching for trowels so they could re-do their eye make-up. Meanwhile, not content with flashing his abs at us in a towel last week, Myles decided that the most appropriate way to behave on camera in a men’s dorm is to wiggle across our eye line in a thong. In a programme with no audience voting, I was left wondering which bottom line he was most eager to demonstrate familiarity with. His own, possibly? Fundamental mistake there, Myles. Oh well, maybe he was just showing us his best side …
Thereafter, the jokes continued to phone themselves through. These week’s challenge – delivered, please note, without any fanfare about its central importance to the economy or any other brouhaha – is to design, prototype and pitch an item of flatpack furniture, with a maximum RRP of £75. Before the phrase has left voice-over man’s lips, I am already thinking ‘yep, strictly two dimensional’ and ‘a child of five could do it’ (and the related jokes). But can 14 children aged between 22 and 39 do it? By the time you are reading this, all bets are off. Do not call now: you may still be charged and your opinion will be disregarded. (For those struggling with maths, the RRP limit is slightly more than half of the TV licence fee you have already paid to be seeing this.)
The one with the brewery. There’s no need for a spoiler, is there? Lord Sugar even utters the immortal line, although you’re made to wait about 47 minutes for it. It doesn’t constitute either suspense or surprise. And given that most of us recognise the human ability to make a fool of ourselves over alcohol (this is a blog, not a confessional, let’s keep things general …), mixing fifteen idiots and a brewery was always going to be a little predictable. Oh well, down the hatch …
It’s 6am in the Apprentimansion. Jason is wearing the kind of stripey jimjams that would make most viewers over a certain age (or of a certain disposition) think of Rock Hudson. Luisa’s Doris Day impersonation, meanwhile, is way off the mark. It’s the series’ habitual soft-porn/candidates-in-their-undergarments section, and the lads have got their tats out for the lasses. Myles impersonates an old Badedas bath foam advert for the cameraman’s benefit, but I’d have thought the chances of a seasoned film crew succumbing to his over-advertised charm at 6.02am were a little thin. Neil, episode 1’s gruellingly relentless back-seat driver, meanwhile reveals a physical quirk. Despite having one of those beards that disappears down his neck, his chest is as bald as his ambition. For at least one good reason, someone needs to deal with that man with a cut-throat razor.
In the “You’ve Been Fired” follow-on programme for Episode 2, Dara O’Briain demonstrated how a change of background music can alter our perception of a piece of footage. The winning team strolling around a Belgian square could be either edgy or comic, depending on the accompanying score. (Left as just a dialogue track, of course, it remained tragic, but music’s awesome power can’t change everything.)
Throughout Episodes 1 & 2 of Series 9 – and two episodes on consecutive nights really was in danger of being too much of a good thing – I often had an imaginary alternative soundtrack. “Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington.” And if Mrs Ampaw-Farr was watching, you might want to pay more attention to Noel Coward than Lord Sugar next time opportunity knocks. Yes, here we are again with The Apprentice. 16 fresh hopefuls, spouting like a school of whales and as estranged from modesty as they are from understatement.
“The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open.”
- Gunter Grass
As a non-academic, there are times when I encounter the outpourings of the higher education community and catch myself thinking “Yes, I knew that, actually. I wouldn’t have explained at such great length, or with so many historic references or such recourse to technical language. But I still feel like I knew that already.” I had that feeling recently, when I researched the idea of Organisational Citizenship.
It turned out that the phrase that I’d be tempted to use in Plain English already has a particular meaning in the literature of Business Schools. I would use the words in the sense that, in the way that organisations nowadays are large, complex bodies with potentially significant populations and uncountably diverse functions and relationships, a person can be a ‘citizen’ of an organisation in the same way that they can be a citizen of a country. Unlike the academics of Business Schools – who use the phrase to (and I paraphrase) describe behaviours linked to discretionary effort – I intended something that we might think of as ‘seen through the other end of the telescope’. Something that perhaps equates to what we might call, in everyday language, a sense of belonging.
In a recent Forbes blog, 10 Traits of Courageous Leaders, Susan Tardanico suggests ten actions leaders can take that will – she argues – have positive benefits for them and for those they lead.
- Confront reality head-on.
- Seek feedback and listen.
- Say what needs to be said.
- Encourage push-back.
- Take action on performance issues.
- Communicate openly and frequently.
- Lead change.
- Make decisions and move forward.
- Give credit to others.
- Hold people (and yourself) accountable.
While Tardanico’s original blog offers explanations and contextualisation for each of these items, her preceding paragraphs offered a broader context of period of a tenuous economy and an environment of workplace stress and anxiety during which many – including leaders – may be strongly tempted to keep their heads down and avoid risk. The remarks and comments it’s invoked, however, cover rather greater ground – and in some cases beg larger questions.
The surviving six from Episode 6 have only just been freshly delivered to the Apprentice Mansion and attempting to relax under some very distressing landshapes, when there’s an ominous knock at the door. As Peter Jackson was not involved in filming Young Apprentice, it’s not Gandalf come to start a firework party. Something far more powerful awaits them: Lord Sugar. For their next challenge, they will be selling at a festival. Apparently we spend £1bn a year on or at them, which seems to take His Lordship by surprise. Possibly not a Glastonbury regular, I’m guessing. They will select from a range of products to spend a £1500 float, set up a stall and ‘imagine it’s your own business’: the team with the highest sales value plus value of remaining stock wins. So far, so straightforward. This is the ‘selling abroad’ task – remember Melody and Susan’s endearing performances in France? – only by ‘abroad’ the BBC now means Wiltshire. (I don’t think this is a BBC cutback: last year’s ‘adults’ version of the task was in Essex.)
Naturally, problems aren’t slow to emerge. Despite Voiceover man’s assertion that it is one of the biggest events in the mud-and-cheesecloth calendar, none of them have heard of WOMAD. (As we are regular attendees, my partner spends the next few seconds laughing at them thinking it’s a farmers market or all rather ‘folksy’. And then Steven reveals he’s been to a couple of festivals – not surprising, as he seems the most likely – but ‘not one that’s middle-agey’. At which point, I confess he may have been virtually bitchslapped with a remote control. How very dare he?) I can’t tell exactly what they’re expecting WOMAD to be, but my own nutshell-description-from-personal-experience (Waitrose throws a tea-party in a field with very eclectic background music) is certainly rather different.
Sometimes you can get a subliminal sense that someone’s heart isn’t really in it. Faced with briefing the candidates on creating a kids club ‘fun but entertaining’ license-able venture, Lord Sugar appears only by iPad. Understandable, however. I’m not sure I could face them at 7am, even with a luxurious get away car on standby.
Barely has the viewer’s brain had time to register the thought “Kids Club? Aren’t we already in one of those?” than His Lordship has intervened to mix up the teams. Platinum is now an alloy of Andrew, Ashleigh, David and Lucy, leaving Maria, Navdeep, Patrick and Steven to be Odyssey. (Did anyone else recall that the name is derived from the Greek for ‘trouble’? Just me then …)
Despite my evil, hand-wringing anticipation last week, the teams get to pick leaders. David and Maria both put themselves forward – David does at least have experience of tutoring small children – and Navdeep and Ashleigh are duly unanimously elected. An early lesson in reputation management there then … Ashleigh tempts fate by voicing to camera that “I’d have done anything to make sure David wasn’t PM again”. Not this early in the evening schedules you wouldn’t, Madam; now behave.
Yes, a film about baseball. Actually, a film about baseball and statistics. For those of you about to click away, it has Brad Pitt in it. (Statistically, there’s a fair chance approx. 95% of women and anywhere between 2 and 10% of men may have perked up at that idea. Factor in linking a film aimed at a mostly US audience with one of the country’s national sports and making a mostly accurate record of a true story, and you possibly have a recipe for a hit film. Reuters certainly agreed:
According to research firm NRG, 45 percent of men say they have definite interest in seeing “Moneyball,” while 15 percent describe it as their “first choice” to see next time they’re in a theater — pretty solid tracking.
If the figures at IMDB are accurate, the film was also profitable within about 6 weeks of release (as well as clocking up 6 OSCAR nominations, 19 film awards and 42 nominations). And you may, at this point, have noticed that I’m not actually talking about baseball much … And all those stats and figures might be a clue?
Getting the hang of the opening sequences yet? They are edited teasers for how the episode might pan out. Ignore the usual pantomime ‘everything is urgent all the time’ stuff (although it’s lucky that Steven is fully dressed at 6am, given that the cars will arrive in 15 minutes.) David, who we are being told (ok, shown) is disorganised, is putting some kind of gel on his face rather than his hair. Maria, who may not have yet studied astronomy (clearly believing the Earth rotates around her), is caught saying “we just need to work together as a team and that will make us win”. Alice, meanwhile, is telling us how she’s won every time so far. Promises, promises …
The opening scenes should have been a warning. Andrew enthusiastically discharges hairspray into his eyes, presumably to keep his boggle-eyed enthusiasm firmly in place. The novelty socks we glimpsed last week – never an encouraging sign on an entrepreneur from experience – belong to Steven. Young Apprentice film editors work in mysterious ways, but these were definitely hints in hindsight.
And so to the task (once one of the girls has managed to figure out how to actually answer the swanky phone), and to the Coliseum Opera House. Somehow the obvious ‘Overture For Beginners’ joke didn’t make into the script. (Later on I failed to spot any reference to fat ladies singing either, but ennui might have been setting in.) We’re here for the shopping – er, sorry negotiation skills – task. The future of entrepreneurial Britain will have ten hours to secure eight props. (As the Opera House’s show actually must go on, I’m hoping an adult has taken the liberty of making sure the real props are already in hand?)