Forgive us for hanging a broader point off a recent political headline (especially as we’ve apologised for this already this month), but the reshuffles of both the government ministers and their Shadow counterparts – and the media commentary on them – does beg a larger question or two.
The headlines (see, for example, The Daily Express, Daily Mail, New Statesman, Sky and BBC News) tell us as much about the commentators as they do about the content, although The Spectator deserves an honourable mention for a deadpan headline that may more accurately reflect general public interest: Small Reshuffle in Britain; Not Many Dead.
What’s interesting about the interpretations and responses is the factionalism – looking for signs as to what the changes mean in terms of which interests, tendencies and allegiances are being advantaged. Accepting – naturally – that organisations are not political parties, there are important points here about diversity and strength, sustainability and vanity (and possibly also the difference between product and branding).
Oh Jesus, it’s the food episode. I’ve endured eight weeks of having my intelligence insulted, and now they’ve started on my social status and my culinary skills. I am plainly not a ‘busy executive’: before settling down to watch this, I cooked – from scratch, with actual ingredients – chicken breasts in a honey, port and lavender glaze served with an Iranian vegetable dish containing carrots, dates, raisins and pomegranate molasses. I need no more proof that I am not in the demographic for this televisual bun fight: I am just too classy. Hell, I even washed the fork before I jammed it in my thigh so I’d make it through a whole episode …
As 6am rolls around again, the novelty of the early starts is plainly no longer working. Alex is (thankfully) fully dressed as he answers the phone, and the residue … sorry, remaining candidates are chauffeured off to The Gherkin. En route, Luisa reveals a hitherto suppressed talent for comedy, as she complains about being called aggressive. Alex meanwhile frets about why no-one takes him seriously enough to make him PM. Answers on a postcard everyone … Quite why they have to stand in Searcey’s Restaurant to be told ready-meals are big business is beyond me: nor have the r’n’r shots of the Apprentice house shown a lot of chopping and dicing action going down. But Lord S has laid on three top retailers for them to pitch to, and Voiceover Man gets to spout some stomach-turning puns. Most orders placed wins (so price doesn’t matter, I assume?), but they have some ludicrously short amount of time to create a ready meal and – ooh, let me guess – branding. Never saw that coming.
The signs were, even by Apprentice standards, not promising. Online dating? Oh, be still my thumping head. Hearts and The Apprentice is rarely a happy combo. I predict blood. We’ve already had boardroom snippets of the CVs these people have compiled to woo Lord Sugar: what hideous promises would they use to lure the hearts – and other anatomical features – of innocent strangers. If the press are to believed, two of the candidates have already been ‘sharing portfolios’, so this could be exceptionally grim. Oh well, here goes …
It’s Neil’s turn to get his tats out on this week’s episode of The Apprentice as the phone call comes in at 6am. They’re off to the Tower of London – sadly as tourists rather than prisoners – and have to take an overnight bag. Jason, ever practical, packs his enormous teddy bear. Jordan reminds Alex that Welshmen can be legally killed at the Tower at 9am. I silently want to recommend a challenge set in Chester, where crossbows can still be legally used against the Welsh pretty much anytime. Ah, the joy of bylaws.
As The Apprentice mansion still doesn’t run to an alarm clock, it’s Jason’s turn to answer the phone at Silly O’clock: this time it’s 6am. And very fetching he looks in his towel and tattoos. (The level of tattooing on the candidates is quite striking, although none of them appear to have taken the opportunity to have the odd sneaky crib-card inked about their person. Or sold any skin for advertising. Oh, the lost opportunities …)
We’re treated to the usual intro sequence, with only two exceptions: the addition of ludicrously over-stirring classical background music and the revelation that they are not only in dormitories but in sleeping bags. The future of British industry is, it appears, effectively camping in a mansion. A youth hostel would surely have been cheaper? (And why, only once as far I recall, has one team taking the phone call and ‘forgotten’ to tell the others: the evidence is available on YouTube for those of you feeling maliciously inclined.) We are, however, still treated to the modest asides to camera. Neil needs to get back on the horse, which I hope is a metaphor rather than a slang reference. Rebecca wants to show what she’s capable of: we’re spared any shot of what she might have in her hands. A grapefruit knife perhaps, or a mutilated wax doll?
It’s 4.30am in Apprenticeland and the phone is ringing. We are treated to the vision of Jason in his stripy jim-jams, being far more polite into a receiver than I might be that early in the day: ah, the transformational power of knowing you’re being watched. If only it lasted …
The ‘everyone hurtling around getting ready’ sequence is its usual regrettable self. Knowing that they’re going to Dubai, Fran (I think) is wondering which of her bikinis to take. Not a garment the locals are big on in the UAE, my dear, but why did you bring a selection of bikinis to The Apprentice in the first place. And in a transparent set-up, we are presented with this week’s evictee from the outset. Zee – who I didn’t feel I needed to know wears a nipple ring – is already crowing about his local knowledge. There’s a watery trap in this series called “This Task Has Got My Name On It”, and Zee’s designer socks are already soaking wet, I fear. More perplexingly, Myles – fully dressed, unusually – is quoting the Bible at Fran in the back of a cab. I’d expect such a metropolitan man of the world to try a smoother line of chat, but life is full of surprises. Even if The Apprentice doesn’t always follow suit. (The relationship between the programme and ‘real life’ is a very odd one on many levels.)
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.