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The Apprentice Week 8 – Margate Mission Muffed

The Guerkin - green, vinegary and often tasteless

The Guerkin - green, vinegary and often tasteless

The Apprentice Week 8 – Margate Mission Muffed

Sugar’s increasingly capricious firing decisions and inconsistent rationale for them invites analysis. The promising Rocky Andrews was fired in week 2, partly on the argument that he was ‘too young’; yet the strikingly immature Ben, just 22 remains after some of the crassest remarks and dumbest behaviour the series has ever seen. Mature and personable Paula Jones led a project with confidence and sensitivity but was fired because of an arithmetic mistake made by someone else to whom she had delegated responsibility and which Ben couldn’t be bothered to check though asked to do so.

Last week Mona led a very successful team well with quiet assurance, displaying excellent selling skills. This week supposedly uncommitted to the task, as far as the pictures we saw were concerned she was at least as committed to their chosen theme of re-branding Margate to appeal to the Gay market, as was James who worked with her. She talked directly and openly to people in a Gay bar while James looked on embarrassed. Debra first bullied Howard out of the Project Manager role, later lying that she hadn’t. In a project where time management and execution were critical she refused to listen to anyone, drove things forward, yet despite being office based throughout, failed even to ensure their brochure was finished and then lied to professionals about it – to their intense irritation. How this was somehow supposed to have been Mona’s fault was utterly incomprehensible on the basis of what we saw on screen. Although as the only Gay member of the team, Howard would have been invaluable on the ground in Margate – so to speak – he was consistently right about the key aspects of their poster and brochure, but as in every episode so far, Debra just aggressively ignored all ideas and contributions except her own.

It is ironic indeed that perhaps the most blatant ‘one-trick-pony’ on the show, Sir Alan ‘flogger’ Sugar himself should fire someone with potential for many of the wider business skills he so manifestly lacks: skills in communication, judgement, sensitivity, psychological insight etc. There is no doubt this week that having grabbed control and totally screwing up the exercise of it, dreadful Debra should have got the boot – literally, very hard up her aggressive little backside.

Put past facts and recent decisions together and one is drawn towards certain conclusions. A toxic atmosphere is created on The Apprentice first by Sir Alan Sugar’s bullying, aggressive psychology then re-inforced by the Production Team manipulating and editing to stoke up this hostile, anxious, totally selfish ethos. This favours aggressive, arrogant personal and management qualities that mostly men are at home with. This corrosive atmosphere forces women away from a healthy and valuable assertiveness into emulating the male aggressive models which both escape the bullet and dominate both groups each week. Thus strong, assertive, competent women with genuine team-playing skills are driven to emulate masculine bullying arrogance just to survive. Debra is good at this because she instinctively has these attitudes and qualities anyway. For Mona, Paula, and last year Lucinda, they have to try to adapt to this environment and fail because it is an ethos at odds with their natural personal instincts and qualities: they can’t be themselves. The same dilemma is faced by less aggressive, instinctively cooperative, team-playing men like say Howard, Rocky, even James. James is an interesting case for he simply mops up Alan Sugar’s gratuitously rude, insulting, unjustified remarks week in, week out. And like all bullies, when he finds an easy target Sugar just keeps on doing it. The worst possible thing that could happen to James is to win this competition: a Faustian bargain he would come to deeply regret.

The task this week was interesting enough: how to re-brand Margate to attract more visitors. Neither team was frankly that good. The winners (Kate, Ben, Lorraine and Yasmine) decided on the slogan “See Margate through children’s eyes” and then produced a poster without a child in sight, excessive verbiage with no appeal to children, and a stupefyingly banal picture of the beach and the sea which could have been almost any seaside resort anywhere in the world. Their brochure also had zero child-created or child-focussed content. If they’d popped into a Margate Primary School and given the kids a drawing/painting competition about ‘How I see Margate’ and then offered a few little prizes for the best they could have had a poster and brochure that literally was what their theme required; the kids would have been thrilled and the people of Margate would have been tickled pink and on board from the start.

As the professional Marketer Martine Ainsworth-Wells remarked on TAYF later – Mona, Debra, Howard, and James had a more distinctive concept: targeting the Gay market was at least different, and apparently a rather tolerant-sounding Margate population, including officials, seemed quite up for it. They had some better pictures but didn’t seem to know how to use them – unable to pick one key image for the poster and the 10 words or so maximum needed for impact. Instead of pursuing an excluding strategy one wondered why they didn’t offer visual signals to Gays but pitch at everyone? Perhaps fewer words; better utilised Gay-flavoured pictures and something like “Everyone is welcome in Margate” or “Everyone likes Margate” or even “Margate welcomes you.” Despite their often victimised gender solidarity, a gradual liberation of attitudes surely makes many Gay people want to be seen as people first and Gay second.

The best idea, the best pictures, and yet an unfinished muddled, muddling brochure offending all the principles that Howard knew but could not get Debra to listen to. Firing Mona and keeping Barracuda Barr on board was pretty much Sralan’s worst and unfairest decision so far. Even Martine Ainsworth-Wells wanted to reach into her TV set and drag Debra out. Aggressive bullying wins again. It’s the only true consistency the old Sugar Lump has.

This format is getting tired. There are so many questions being raised about Sralan Sugar’s role and attitudes they too should come under some challenge. So why not have two parallel shows next season. Pick a progressive, real manager (Jamie Oliver would be a great choice) let each manager pick 16 from the thousands who apply each year. Then each Apprentice group, Sugar’s and the other, turn and turn about have to do exactly the same challenges – half picked by Sugar and half by his challenger. Let’s pitch diametrically opposed styles and attitudes to management against each other.

I know where my sympathies would lie and my money would bet. The final programme would have the leader of the winning group telling his opponent – “you’re fired.” Now that would be worth watching.

PS: with thanks to Colin-M for his helpful critical comments.

Many of you may have read the original version of this review. I have removed my opening comments regarding ethnicity because they might have been open to misinterpretation. I also got it wrong – the winner of the first series Timothy Campbell was black and runner-up Saira Khan was of Kashmiri background.

The actual argument in the back of my mind was cultural and psychological – not racial. I found myself wondering whether white Anglo-Saxon women in particular might emulate more easily the open aggression and arrogance that the general ethos of The Apprentice seems to reflect and reward. I wondered whether women on the show from other cultural backgrounds, whether religious or social, found it harder to embrace this overtly masculine model of behaviour simply because of the frequently radically different perception of women in their own cultures.

I don’t know how much, if any truth there is in these speculations but it was obviously not enough to just mention them without exploring them properly. I guess the irrationality of Mona’s removal this week against the clearly under-performing, much more culpable highly aggressive Debra, illustrated this contrast perfectly. If cultural differences affect female gender types, they presumably could affect men candidates in the same way. I can’t answer this question regarding candidates from say Muslim, Hindu, Afro-Caribbean, Asian etc cultures, I don’t know enough about them. However many of the most hateful, even despicable attitudes and comments on the show seem only too characteristic of a certain kind of recognisably British personality.

The relationship of these ideas to The Apprentice is that the rampantly arrogant, individualistic, aggressive personal style not only displayed by Sir Alan Sugar but it seems to me favoured by him week in and week out, is precisely the attitude to Business, Management, Leadership and Team-spirit to which I am most opposed. And that conception is almost exclusively associated with White Anglo-Saxon attitudes to business and personal achievement.

I hate it; reject it; and do not believe for one minute that it is the best way to go, still less the only way to go – whatever message odd, misjudged firings on The Apprentice may suggest.

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