Tom Bennett

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Young Apprentice episode 1: enter the dragonflies

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Sugar’s grimace: terrifying.
‘The Ice Cream Industry- worth a cool £1 billion a year.’ Did you see what the voice over did there. DID YOU SEE WHAT HE DID?
The Apprentice has rolled back into town in its early-years incarnation. I confess to my dependence on this series. As Nick Hewer, Surallun’s Deputy Dawg mused in a recent interview, ‘We have twenty weeks of Apprentice every year- but is it enough?’ NO, Nick, IT IS NOT THANK YOU FOR ASKING, SO SORT THAT SH*T OUT PLEASE. He fancies a geriatric version, where third-agers vie against each other to build up riches on Earth, possibly at a time when they should be building up riches in Heaven. Hope springs eternal. I’d love to see a contestant (sorry, aspiring apprentice) say to Surallun, ‘Shush your mouth, sonny, I knew your father.’
Until then, the Young Apprentice. In many ways, preferable to the 18 certificate version, if only because you don’t look at them with the same mixture of despair and weltschmertz as their older counterparts. On some level you can keep saying to yourself: they’re only kids. They can change.
‘Sweet on the tongue,’ apparently. Unlike Watermelon.
You know the drill: 12 contestants compete with each other for the prize: financial backing for their pet business idea, and guidance and advice from their grizzly benefactor. Like Trump on the American version, Sugar is the catalyst that makes this work: picture someone else and try to imagine the wet lettuce that would follow. He’s the enzyme: but the kids are the stars, and not always for the right reasons. By this point we’re unfamiliar with the contestants: we don’t have favourites or villains yet (actually I did, after about five minutes, but they canned him at the end- more on the legend that is Mahamed later), so at this stage we’re sorting the wheat from the chaff: the belligerent, psychopathic narcissists from…well the ones who didn’t apply.
Hayley: surprisingly sane
(Writing about kids raises ethical issues all by itself. When I write about Educating Essex I’m painfully aware that some of my targets are school kids, and I have an automatic default setting of protecting and nurturing them, because the whole point of being a kid is that you’re still learning, so I’ll cut them some slack and refrain from jumping in boots-first. But in contrast, no one asked these stalwarts to appear on national television: if they didn’t want exposure, or the high risk, high dividend tactic of appearing on a prime time quiz show then they can expect to be talked about. Still, I’ll be gentle. It takes, after all, stones (or if you’re Stuart ‘The brand’ Baggs, a complete lack of perspective and introspection approaching the aspergic) to do something like this. And already some of the kids seem interesting.)
One of the common complaints against a program like this is that it encourages the worst excesses of capitalism: material aspiration beyond all other concerns; the habit of rampant individualism; disparity of wealth; one big winner, lots of big losers, you know, the kind of stuff that people with flexible career aspirations are currently knocking themselves out over on the steps of St Paul’s (way to stick it the man, incidentally. We hate banks! Let’s camp in…er a church! Silly sausages). 
This complaint has merit; certainly the contestants that really stick out from the past are the most vile specimens of humanity: craven, sociopathic parasites who were born, apparently saying ‘Money’, who would, week after week, promise over 100% effort, in defiance of the laws of logic and physics. There was even one particular plum who promised 150%; the next week then promised 140%, and the next, 130%. As Dara O’Briain commented, ‘He’s losing productivity by ten % per week! Sack him!’
So it’s true; the joy of The Apprentice has often been schadenfreude; watching Nemesis lay waste to hubris, and those who offend the Gods. Be careful, Icarus, how high you care to climb, because your wings are made of wax. And chocolate gold. 
Once we accept trade, and proceed from barter to currency economies, we have to concede the role of the entrepreneur. There’s a lot wrong with capitalism, believe me. But as Milton Friedman, the American liberal economist famously said, ‘Show me a system that works better.’ I have some sympathy for that. The Free Market is famously cruel; the bonded collectivism of the socialist is tyrannical, and enables totalitarianism. The best we have so far are systems that attempt to combine the best of both worlds. We’re still working on it, human nature being what it is.
(I’m not sure that every blog about the Apprentice needs to start with a justification of capitalism, but it seems fashionable to mount a soapbox about it, given that, you know, apparently capitalism is broken, or something. I don’t know, I’ve been busy blogging about Jamie Oliver and Essex).
I look at this and think ‘success.’
This year’s candidates were the usual mixture of the great and the ghoulish; man-children and frighteningly precocious Amazons, all power heels and Cruella de Ville lippy. At the start they all seem variously foetal and amorphous. Their characters are revealed slowly, like a brass rubbing. Some of course, stand out more than others, depending on the editor’s hand.
Did you see them pick their team names? DID YOU SEE? The first flag up the pole was ‘Team Future,’ because, ‘We’re the future.’ And already we can relax: this series is going to be brilliant. They settled on ‘Atomic,’ because in the words of one, ‘You hear the word atomic, you think of speed.’ No mate, you think Fukushima and cancer, but we’ll let that slide. On the girls’ gang, the name Sixth Sense was suggested, and it was like, man, who farted? They went for Team Core, because the Sun has, like a core. This naming ritual is hilarious. It’s like they race each other to the bottom of the barrel as quickly as they can, hoping presumably to burst through to the other side into new dimensions of awfulness. Could it get any worse?
Yes: the leader-selection ritual. As usual, no one wanted to go first, the yellow rats. Lewis, charmingly, said, ‘I don’t think I’m strong enough to lead a team I don’t know,’ which was great, although it was a bit early to be so honest about being sh*t. 
 
So: design an ice cream flavour: deck out a marketing strategy; sell. A nice package task: business in microcosm. So, so many points where our young adventurers could f*ck up royally. They didn’t disappoint. 
The boys came up with a pirate theme. Pirates. That’s an odd genre, when you think of it: they’re not really cuddly, are they? I suppose ‘rapists’ would have been a bit of a risky pitch. You certainly don’t see many of them at fancy dress parties, unless you work for the IMF. So, pirates it was, and BOY did the ownership of that idea cause a riot in the boardroom. Mahamed, who had the potential to be my breakout star, came up with the idea to paint the ice cream trolley like a treasure chest. Not sure how many treasure chests pirates use these days; more high speed assault vessels and prow-mounted automatic weaponry, but never mind the reality. Pirates! Arrr!
James decided, perhaps unwisely, that he would become a character: Captain Vanilla. Unfortunately that name is already taken on some of the more exotic nightclub scenes, but he wasn’t to know that.
Actually, Mahamed also took to the pirate theme like a tiny torpedo, leaping out at customers at the seaside like a prowler. ‘Ice cream!’ he shouted at them, as they scurried away, terrified. He was like a Jack Russell. A Jack Russell scaring people and shouting ‘Ice Cream!’ His peer James, tried to rein him in (although frankly, he wasn’t much cop at the whole charm offensive either. It appears to be on the application form). Then the group leader, Harry M had a beach wave: ice cream delivery on the beach. Perfect. Would you buy an ice cream as you sunbathed if someone (admittedly one dressed as a pirate) offered to do so. YOU BET YOU WOULD. It would be ICE CREAM TIME if that thing were to happen. 
Back to the dishes, mate.
Over in camp Core, they had a grasp of mathematics that was a woeful joy to behold (or not behold). Honestly they were so bad, I thought that one of them was going to tell Surallun that she would give him -34% of her effort in the next task. These girls had GCSEs in maths, and Mr Gove, if that doesn’t make your duodenum undulate with terror, nothing will. Fix this. Fortunately they had a strategy to cost out their production. ‘F*ck it, take as much as they can make in, er…..five minutes. Or something.’ That, my friends, is how we put men on the Moon.
Their sales strategy was also brilliant, if demonic: charge something horribly high, and then pile the pricey upsell options onto the cone before they got a chance to object. And they CHARGED FOR THE CONE. Yes, you heard me. You might have thought that this kind of thing was factored into the ticket price. Not a bit of it. I’m surprised they didn’t say, ‘Fifty pence for us NOT to sh*t in it.’
My absolute favourite evil manoeuvre was when the tiny, cute kid was ‘buying’ an ice cream from the stall, and Hannah just kept piling the extras on as the kiddy agreed with gusto to every upsell imaginable. Because she was a child. The Mum’s eyes nearly popped out as she realised her darling had been robbed- and there’s no other word for it- into buying the world’s most expensive ice-cream. Plus cone. If you thought there were ethical issues intrinsic to writing about the under-eighteens, I suspect there are rather more issues dripping off that kind of child exploitation. And THAT, my friends, is why we need unions, because of these tiny business minds can resort to crookery so easily and innocently, you can see how big business strip mines virgin primary forest and goes, ‘What?’ when someone tells them off for it. It’s in our natures as much as kindness is. Possibly more.
Vanilla Ice. NO JOKE.
Back at Boot camp- sorry, Surallun’s office (which of course it isn’t- Surallun has a base in Loughton that makes a Soviet saucepan factory look glamorous; this is a hired set to convey the opulence and dizzying, vast minimalist excesses of capital) the boys were found to be wanting, all down to costings, apparently, although a kinder heart might question the fact that they were selling in different locations, with different customers, so inevitably the competition was far from played on a level field. Whatever.
It seemed a cruel loss for them, when, apart from some aggressive pirating from Mahamed, they ticked all the boxes of diligence, team work, and getting shit done. The girls hadn’t got shit done; they had done what, depressingly, they seem primed to do in these series, i.e. tear each other apart as soon as possible (see my blog on Educating Essex 5). The team leader, Hayley, gave clear instructions for their resources team to buy x number of bananas and Mangos. But Gbemi decided to get half as much; so her team leader told her to buy more. Gbemi told her to stick it up her arse. ‘We’re on our way to an important meeting. Can’t you do it?’ she told her nominal boss. Stick. It. Up. Your. Arse. One to watch, that Gbemi. Comedy Gold. And, apparently, a ticking time bomb.
So, the bizarrely victorious Core ended up Zorbing themselves sick, and the Atomic Boys sat with their lemonades (in some ways watching the Young Apprentice is like watching Bugsy Malone) at the Bridge Cafe of Fail. They should put a sign outside: ‘Breakfast of Losers!’
But not as much as Mohammed, who bounced about in his huge seat like a flea, claiming all the glory and cutting everyone down as best he could. I’m sure that, in real life, he is a lovely young man, and an installer of quality satellite dishes, a business he no doubt runs with perfect probity. In this show, he came across as an angry, vainglorious little braggart, as desperate and cynical as any of his adult contemporaries. Sugar crushed his ambitions with the finger of Doom. ‘Blah, blah, blah,… my bleedin’ Aunt Fanny, you’re fired,etc…’ said Baron Sugar of Hackney, or words to that effect, as Nick pursed his lips like a man sucking the skin from a bullet. 
But if Mahamed was crushed, he kept it hidden. In the famous Taxi of Fail, he was adamant. ‘It’s going to be Lord Sugar who regrets it,’ he said, with a pantomime trace of villainy and threat hanging in the air. There’s a pirate in their somewhere. Sorry, somewherrrrre. Sugar better not take any cruises soon.
And I wonder how often that driver gets tipped? Not very, I imagine.
Do NOT cross this woman. She will chin you.
The child becomes the man. Life is a generational story, of course. Episode one was a beautiful start to a long relationship between me and my sofa every Monday for the next few months.  Will Rugby Harry break Sugar’s no fackin’ toffs policy? Will Gbemi chin someone? We’ll find out next week in episode 2.
Or, as the girls would say, episode 15 ½ .
Other highlights:
  • Harry H: ‘He was Heavenly to work with…I’ve had perfect time to reflect.’ What is this, Downton Abbey? 
  • Mystic Mahamed: ‘Watermelon- no one’s gonna buy that. But honey is sweet on the tongue.’
  • Nick: ‘He snatches at the facts.’ You fact-snatcher. Great insult.
  • Sugar to slippery James de Griz: ‘Watch it, OK? Watch it.’ *James nods, sweating*
  • Harry H, talking about the boardroom scrap: ‘It was like the Battle of the Somme.’
  • Lewis, talking about the same thing: ‘It was like Pass the Parcel!’

5 Comments

  1. Neil says:

    OMG, can't believe you're commenting on another program behind Educating Essex's back! I'm SO gonna text Carrie about this…

  2. Dee says:

    I was so busy laughing my socks off at this blog that when my infant child of tender years asked:
    “When are you getting off the computer?”
    I replied
    “go and play on your X-box”.
    All this as my mummy brain was screaming “NOOO!” and the part of me that lived through Prize day today swatted mummy brain away.
    Now away to read your take on last week's “Educating Essex”- but I'm still never bloody watching “the Apprentice”

  3. Tom Bennett says:

    @ Dee

    Glad I can contribute to your family ambience 🙂 Go ON, watch it….watch it……

  4. Andy says:

    I didn't watch it – but Slippery Jim de Griz? Seriously?

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