“I walk along the street of sorrow. The boulevard of broken dreams. ” sings Tony Bennett in the BBC’s frequently aired trailer for The Apprentice. Yes, the suits, the egos and “Suralan” are back to boost the ratings and distract a nation in waiting for the results of that Spending Review. To misquote another crooner, Brian Hyland, it’s gonna be a cold, lonely winter. So instead of cranking up the thermostat, you can watch Britain’s most famous boss turning up the heat on the latest bunch of hubristic wannabes.
You don’t have to be an Apprentice aficionado to know that the BBC’s website contains some glaring inaccuracies. “Meet the 16 men and women trying to impress Lord Sugar with their business and leadership skills.” I haven’t seen all of the previous five series, but what I have gleaned is that brass neck, chutzpah and an excess of lip gloss are likely to get you a long way.
Take the last series, in which the Amazonian Debra Barr seemed to cast a spell over Lord Sugar and his acolyte Nick Hewer. Week after week, we watched her shooting her mouth off and riding roughshod over the other candidates. Despite a surprising aptitude for selling tat on a home shopping channel, Debra was notable chiefly for yelling into her mobile and “flashing her assets” in the tabloids.
Week after week I waited for the axe to fall, only to have my hopes dashed as some other poor schmuck got fired and Debra used up another of her nine lives. One of Sugar’s more baffling pronouncements was to advise her to “Conquer yourself first before taking on the world.” Business acumen? Do me a favour, this is about compelling TV, not finding your way around a spreadsheet.
I don’t want to spoil tonight’s opening episode by knowing too much about the candidates. Mind you, that hasn’t stopped fearless investigative reporters from dishing the dirt on some of this year’s contenders. Something tells me this won’t have a negative impact on the show’s ratings.
There was one name that leapt out of the list of 16 candidates, so I watched the audition video for 22-year-old Raleigh Addington. He claims to be “quite bubbly” and that people “sometimes compare me to Boris Johnson”, which may or may not be an asset in his future career. As the bubble-headed one (his hair is quite curly) ran through the usual litany of clichés about hard work, enthusiasm and business nous, I noticed that he kept touching the side of his nose. That’s a sure sign of lying, isn’t it? I’ve got your number, Mr Addington, and I fully expect you to be as lazy, inept and unschooled in the ways of commerce as the rest of this year’s crop.
Whatever happens during this series, the name of the biggest loser is already known. Adrian Chiles, formerly the presenter of BBC1’s The One Show and The Apprentice: You’re Fired! has fallen out with the Corporation and taken himself off to ITV1 — home of inflated salaries and low artistic standards. Adrian, you are a total muppet.
Does Adrian harbour a secret ambition to become the Siamese twin of fellow Daybreak presenter and BBC exile, Christine Bleakley? Supporting West Brom shows questionable judgment, but his attempts to cosy up to her on the sofa every morning are verging on the pathological. As the straight-talking Aussies in the latest Fosters’ ads might say “Sounds like he’s a space invader.”
It’s a crying shame: as presenter of The Apprentice: You’re Fired!, Adrian had found his true métier interviewing the newly ejected candidates from The Apprentice and forcing them to sit through their most excruciating moments. I went to a recording of one of the early episodes last year and it was (almost) worth several hours in a TV studio without food or drink, to watch Mr Chiles demonstrate his exquisite comic timing. You didn’t even have to watch the main show to enjoy this as, quite simply, the best half hour of comedy on TV.
Cruelly, the BBC has chosen to replace Adrian Chiles with a couple of real comedians — Jason Manford on The One Show and Dara O’Briain on The Apprentice: You’re Fired!. BBC2’s controller has said of O’Briain, “His unique style of quick-witted banter is ideally suited to the job of probing the latest casualty of Lord Sugar’s infamous firing finger.” It sounds as though the BBC suits thinks the presenter of this show is as interchangeable as the weekly boardroom cannon fodder.
Enjoy your new sofa, Adrian, and reflect on the irony that it’s your own gigantic ego that has led to your untimely exit from one of the best shows on British TV. As the man said, “The laughing had to end.”