Bangers and cash

The latest series of The Apprentice kicked off with a sausage-themed task that was clearly designed to generate a barrage of double entendres. From Joanna’s (quite sensible) “We need to up the meat content” to the predictable “Have you seen the size of them?”, it was laughs all the way until, as Dara O’Briain put it “One man’s sausage failed to sizzle.” What a carry on. I hope that Kenneth Williams and Sid James are chuckling somewhere as they tuck into a pack of Wall’s finest.

Let’s start at the end. We may be living in straitened times, but Lord Sugar’s 16 new recruits have not, as I feared, been billeted in a Portakabin under the Westway. A Georgian mansion in central London, complete with swimming pool and wilting flowers, will be their home for the next 12 weeks. BBC cameras will be recording their every outrageous utterance. After the sight of boorish estate agent Philip Taylor prancing about in his underpants on last year’s show, I sincerely hope there will be no bedroom scenes. This isn’t Big Brother.

Back to the boardroom. At midnight, Lord Sugar (though I still prefer Suralan) delivered his usual headmaster’s speech routine to the awestruck candidates, “In this climate you need to stand out from the crowd.” While most of the country is still blaming the recession on those reckless, risk-taking bankers, the contrary Suralan said he wasn’t interested in any “steady Eddies or cautious Carols”. After last year’s competition, it might have been wise to add that he didn’t really want any more bumptious Bens, (mildly incontinent) Jameses, or downright annoying Debras. But where would be the fun in that?

This opening task was to be a test of endurance — both for the teams and the watching public. For the record, the boys decided to call themselves Synergy, while the ladies (girls) went for Apollo. Of course, if the viewers were picking names we might have something a bit more colourful — bombastic, deluded, procrastination, hubris . . . More important, Dan Harris and Joanna Riley decided to put themselves directly in the firing line by volunteering their services as team leaders.

The teams headed to Smithfield Market, to begin a night and a day of turning raw meat into sausages — “one of the nation’s favourites”. In time-honoured Apprentice fashion they would then attempt to peddle their wares to the unsuspecting British public. Ringing in their ears was Suralan’s warning that there would be no excuses if “you lot don’t come back in here with a healthy profit”.

I’m not a vegetarian, but it was a toss-up which was the more unappetising sight here — hunks of gristle being churned around, or the headless chickens in blue hair nets trying to operate the machinery. Those of a sensitive disposition may still be recovering from last year’s catering extravaganza, in which the boys dressed up in togas to serve canapes. Once again, the teams opted for differing strategies, with the girls targeting the gourmet sausage market and the blokes producing something you probably wouldn’t feed to your dog.

It’s early days, but a few of this year’s crop made an immediate impression. This being the “Austerity Apprentice”, it looks as though some of them are slightly cheaper versions of the Class of 2009. Stuart “The Brand” Baggs, a 21-year-old telecoms entrepreneur, is clearly aiming to be the less posh answer to young thruster Ben Clarke — minus the braces. He’s outrageously overconfident, uses gallons of hair product and talks utter bullshit. His audition video “I’m alive. There are so many people that aren’t alive” looks like a spoof of The Office. Clearly this guy is desperate to be famous.

I’ve already mentioned unemployed Raleigh (“On yer bike”) Addington, whose presence is clearly a godsend for headline writers everywhere. His moment of glory came during an almost tearful boardroom diatribe about Dan’s leadership, which he described as “thuggish” and “shameful”. After that prep school outburst — complete with quivering lip — I’m not sure Raleigh is old enough to play with the big boys again.

Melissa “It’s a matter of professionalism” Cohen is making a bid to be this year’s answer to Lorraine Tighe, as the candidate with stupid glasses and a knack for winding people up. A word of advice, Melissa: no-one gets far on this show by being right. She locked horns with the hapless Joanna a couple of times, hinting at further discord once those two find themselves on the losing team.

As so often on The Apprentice, it all came down to a trifling matter of £15. Synergy, led so aggressively by Dan “I’ll lead, you do all the work” Harris, did make a profit on their down-market bangers. But they failed to match the ladies’ superior sales strategy. He dragged Alex and Stuart back to the boardroom for a final dust-up, but the killer punches had already been landed. Desperate Dan appeared to have modelled his expletive-ridden management technique on that of Gordon Ramsay. It didn’t go down well with Karren Brady, who was monitoring proceedings.

Over on The Apprentice: You’re Fired!, Dan proved surprisingly mild-mannered and Dara O’Briain showed that he’s no Adrian Chiles.

Quote of the week (there were so many) came from comedienne Jenny Eclair: “You don’t buy sausages from a stranger.”

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