24 Carat Sold

This week on The Apprentice: Jim passes the buck, Susan sits on the fence and Natasha avoids the booby prize.

It’s Week Seven of The Apprentice and I’m still pining for Stuart Baggs and his much-vaunted “field of ponies”. But this year’s candidates seem more at home with double entendres and wilfully obscure tag-lines than extravagant metaphors. Perhaps it’s time to address the elephant in the room: these guys just aren’t as bombastic or as funny as they should be.

Lord Sugar’s latest shock and awe tactic was a (semi-impressive) lift descent in front of the assembled masses (well, nine candidates) at Rupert Murdoch’s former gaff, 65 Fleet Street. After immersing the teams in a load of rubbish, his latest assignment involved the equally grubby world of publishing. The teams were instructed to create a new “freemium” magazine and then sell the advertising space to three media buyers.

PM Jim got a free transfer to Venture, while Leon joined Logic — still flushed with success after their recent adventures in recycling. Viewers sat back to enjoy the usual irresistible mix of half-baked ideas, incompetent negotiating and internecine warfare.

Did I say irresistible? Actually irrepressible would be a better way to describe Natasha Scribbins, whose tendency to call a spade a spade is finally starting to win me over. As PM of Logic, no-nonsense Natasha was in no doubt about where her publication should be positioned in the market. Some might call it T&A; Ms Scribbins would probably prefer B&B (that’s boys and business). Still, “Covered” is a pretty good name for a publication aimed at today’s financially savvy lads. (Is that a calculator in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?)

Natasha just about restrained herself from stripping off for “Covered’s” first centrefold. (Melody was keeping her assets under wraps, too.) But that was more or less the limit of the PM’s decorum this week, as she dragged poor Leon off to conduct the kind of vox pop that has no place on posh channels like BBC1. “How do you blow your load?” she brazenly asked a selection of bewildered young men around London. (I’m guessing that the best answers to that are languishing on a cutting room floor somewhere in west London.) She really needs a good slap round the head with a man bag.

Let’s give Natasha some credit, she does have a Baggs-like belief in her own ideas — even if those ideas are at least 15 years past their sell-by date. Talking of which, Venture’s brilliant publishing concept was a magazine aimed at the over-60s. You know, those “coffin-dodgers” like Lord Sugar and the watching Nick Hewer, who have problems mastering new technology like mobile phones. Watching Susan and Glenn chatting with some golden oldies at a bowling club, I realised this wasn’t so much a generation gap as a yawning chasm.

Venture’s names ideas were all so crappy that I’ve already erased them from my mind. Urged to come up with something humorous, they wound up “Old Boot” Nick for a few minutes. Just as he was about to demonstrate some real pensioner power by inserting his clipboard into one of Glenn’s orifices, Zoe suggested “Hip Replacement”. Geddit?

Hard-nosed Media buyers at Carat, Mediacom and Maxus had the enjoyable task of grilling the candidates about their publications. In one corner, we had Logic with “Covered: the work hard play hard guide”, featuring a model in black underwear and hard hat, carrying a surfboard. I’m sure Natasha would happily have removed her top, if she thought it would generate more sales. Instead she contented herself with emasculating Leon with her constant interruptions.

Bringing up the rear were Venture, who hoped that “Hip Replacement: Out with the old in with the new” was a concept that would mature like a fine wine. Sensing that this was a loser, Zoe and Susan wisely left the presentations to Jim and Mr Cat Size himself, Glenn. If anyone can appreciate the wit, irony and breathtaking originality of a name like “Hip Replacement”, it’s the decidedly square design engineer from Hertfordshire.

In the boardroom figures were finally revealed. (No, not Melody and Natasha.) “Hip Replacement” had overcome its dodgy name and creaky cover design to win more ad sales from both Mediacom and Maxus. Unfortunately, Carat had failed to bite. This might have had something to do with Jim’s refusal to offer them any sort of discount off the rate card prices. They won it for Logic by buying every page of “Covered” for a grand total of £60,000. Logic went fencing, allowing the victorious Natasha to lower the tone yet again: “We certainly haven’t been given the booby prize!”

I must admit that I really wanted to see Jim fired this week. His capacity for governing by committee and never taking a decision on his own has not gone unnoticed in the boardroom. Inexplicably he chose not to bring back back Zoe, leaving Glenn and Susan to fight it out.

Events followed a familiar pattern, with Susan complaining that she never gets a fair hearing because she’s only 21 and has a flawless complexion– “It’s so unfair!” Glenn (correctly) admonished her for playing the age card yet again, while Jim sarcastically observed “It looks as if we’re all trying to shoot Bambi.” But as Lord Sugar pointed out, “It was actually Bambi’s mother that got shot”.

Channelling the spirit of 2009’s Lorraine “Cassandra” Tighe, it seems to be Susan’s role to point out other people’s glaring errors. This is a losing strategy, because listening to other candidates is a sign of weakness on The Apprentice. My advice: get off the fence and try ending all your sentences with a forceful “yeah”. It works for Natasha.

Jim didn’t get sacked, but he did get worked over by Lord Sugar’s sidekicks. He was branded a “control freak” by Nick, who didn’t appreciate being contradicted over his recollections about what Susan had or had not said this week. Karren, who has never turned up to work sporting just lingerie and a hard hat, then hit Jim with a charge of being “passive aggressive”.

Glenn gave quite a good account of himself in the boardroom, but for reasons that escape me he was fired. Apparently, it was something to do with Lord Sugar not being able to work with engineers. Given that Jim is a patronising, passive-aggressive control freak, Glenn can consider himself hard done-by.

Advertisements