Along with other TV critics, I have been receiving emails with the message, “Someone is going to get fired”. It turned out to be an invitation to the launch of the new series of The Apprentice, which begins on BBC1 next Wednesday, but you’d think that in the current blood-soaked media climate PRs would be a bit more sensitive to the traumatised hacks they were attempting to contact.
Either way, it begs the question — how appropriate is The Apprentice, with its sackings, to a Britain where nearly two million are jobless?
To go by the sneak preview of episode one screened at the launch on Tuesday, which had Sir Alan in attendance along with minders Nick and Margaret, it’s business as usual.
Eight women and seven men (including Belfast trainee stockbroker Ben Clarke, 22) stride towards the camera in their designer suits and skirts; the laughable braggadocio is par for the course, from “I’m outstanding; it’s a given” to “I don’t have to make friends on the way up because I’m not coming down again.” “Making money is better than sex”, says another; when asked (by a scribe from Nuts magazine) whether he agreed, Sir Alan executed a graceful sidestep with “you should have asked me that 30 years ago”.
The winner will still earn a ‘six-figure salary’ (not a penny over a hundred grand, you suspect) — although the new series is coy about Sir Alan’s own net worth.
We used to be told at the start of each episode that it was “more than £800m” — but some estimates reckon that Sugar has been hit for £100m by falling property prices and the recession. Does he own the “11,000 square feet of luxury penthouse” that the contestants call home for 12 weeks? If so, it must be worth a fair bit less by the minute. But then, the show’s money-macho swank is starting to look a bit hollow — a bit 2007.
As a helicopter again sweeps over the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf to The Dance of the Knights from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, you start to wonder if Wagner’s Götterdämmerung might not have been more appropriate.
Oh, look, there’s Citigroup. Haven’t the US government just had to part-nationalise that mob? Oh, and there’s Lehman’s former HQ. Moving on ... We still get a shot of Canary Wharf just before we cut to Sugar’s HQ, suggesting this is the eyrie from which Sir Alan surveys his empire, instead of his real HQ in Brentwood, Essex.
But never mind, for as Sir Alan was happy to reassure his audience, it’s just a television show — one he claims will be more sensitive to our more straitened circumstances.
In next week’s opener the wannabe plutocrats are sent out to wash something (“can we wash people?” wonders Paula, a ‘human resources consultant’ from Walsall, bless her).
‘Senior financial manager’ Mona and ‘senior sales consultant’ Debra is already shaping up to be a tasty feud, while ‘retail business manager’ Howard looks a likely contender for obnoxious prat. And in the end isn’t this what it’s all about?
Come good economic times or bad, The Apprentice is reality entertainment gold.