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The Apprentice Ep 5 – Double Bubble

Bye Bye Ellie

Bye Bye Ellie

The Apprentice Episode 5 – Double Bubble

Metaphor of the week: “ he had his head so far up Jim’s bottom that he couldn’t see the wood for the trees”. Now I neither have, nor entertain any aspiration to acquire any knowledge, intimate or generalised, about the terrain in question but if there is anything at all up there even vaguely resembling a tree or trees, we’d better get Jim a rectal exam ASAP.

There is an acid test for when a TV Soap or long-running fictional series is past its sell-by date: this is the point at which plot begins to drive characterisation instead of the other, right, way round. Thus characters you have come to know and understand suddenly start behaving in totally uncharacteristic ways because, often through flagging popularity, the writers have to spice things up with ever more melodramatic, implausible plots.

We all know The Apprentice is an entertainment with only a marginal relationship to our everyday reality; and virtually none to real business challenges and demands. This week’s fairly discreditable programme, despite its good moments, made the phoniness blatantly and unpleasantly apparent. And as is becoming increasingly the case, this has virtually nothing to do with the Apprentices.

No, Laud Grros and his yes-persons Nick Hewer and Karen Brady were at their most post-hoc, perfect 20-20 hindsight vision best on this week’s task. With the flimsiest of ‘objective’ evidence available to justify his decision as to this weeks ‘winners’, all we were left with were Laud Grros’s prejudices, insecurities and inverted-snob fractured grammar – “the decision lays with me”. I usually avoid any reference to Laud Grros’s Alesha Dixonian-style assault on the simplest elements of grammatical accuracy because one has the distinct feeling that it is there precisely as a defiant challenge – his badge of class. “Where is your brains?” Give me a break.

I have become used to Ms Brady and Nick seeing which way the Sugar Yacht is heading and then tacking in behind but this week their snitchy, back-the-boss comments were ridiculous. Nick opining that Vincent was so scared of Jim that he feared that if he brought him back into the boardroom , “he’d kill him”. Nothing OTT about that advice then. As we find in parallel playground situations, Laud Grros has turned these two ‘advisers’ into snitches. The nastiest example of this in week 5 was that knowing as we all do, that Laud Grros has it in for Jim, they joined the Good lord! in putting the simplistic, unjustified boot in.

It is interesting and instructive to consider Jim. I have no special brief for him but he did absolutely nothing wrong in relationship terms this week. He was traduced and insulted by Sugar. When he asked whose idea the name Everydog was, Jim did not as Sugar claimed, immediately jump in and claim the ‘credit’; he waited for a few long seconds and then quietly put is his hand up and said the name was his idea. If he had not admitted this then he would have been guilty of what Sugar and Hardy accused him; not admitting the name was his idea. However, he rightly pointed out that the unwavering strategy to pursue an all-market concept was not his but Vincent’s. It was in the context of this strategy that he thought up the name. Although Jim did not protest this strategy in the same way that Tom did, the strategy was not his idea, only the name that expressed it was. The name didn’t generate the strategy, the strategy generated the name: and Jim was perfectly correct and within his rights to point that out. And the fact that Vince accepted that is a far more plausible explanation for him not taking Jim into the boardroom than idiotic ideas about being too scared to.

Jim’s facts were correct and his arguments valid. Unfortunately neither Sugar nor his poodlette Karen appeared to understand the distinction between the name and the strategy. True, once the name had been adopted then it became the expression of the strategy. But in terms of responsibility for the strategy that was clearly Vince’s from the start. And Jim did do his best to support Vince and argued quite coherently that this strategy was not as knock down stupid or perverse as all the specialist ‘marketers’ claimed. In You’re Fired later Kelvin MacKenzie, by no means my favourite guy, but a pretty experienced one, and certainly no Sugar-fan, supported the view that this was a perfectly valid marketing pitch: to perhaps the majority of dog owners like him, who take a sensible and pragmatic view that all that really matters about dog food for owners is the quality of materials that go into it; that what they want is good nourishing food for their dog, at a price offering value for money. I wonder what proportion of the dog food market is supermarkets’ own-brand? Are the market-leaders like PAL and CHUM niche-marketed? Even PEDIGREE CHUM isn’t really market segment directed – it is surely based upon the idea that people with non-pedigree dogs will buy it just as avidly as pedigree owners. It is a ‘whole market’ pitch disguised as niche.

Niches and segmentation are marketers’ wet dreams: along with focus groups and pseudo-scientific analyses of demography and social class etc etc. A great deal of this is expensive bull-sh*t masquerading as priestly knowledge. Vince’s pitch it seems to me and certainly MacKenzie agreed, was perfectly valid; too ambitious and not thought through enough perhaps but not ‘bollocks’ or ‘tragic’ as Laud Grros, father of the e-mailer phone claimed. In all this crap about a priori, axiomatic principles of marketing no one for a moment mentioned the almost anonymous, turgid green can chosen for Everydog. The only thing Glen and his team did better was to pick stronger colours and packaging for their product. And Laud Grros didn’t even mention it.

I accept that there are valid arguments either way here: my point is that either Sugar didn’t understand the perfectly coherent arguments Jim and Vince were advancing, or didn’t really give a sh*t because he has it in for Jim anyway. And why? Because he is too strong, too dominant? No, because Sugar can’t brook disagreement, especially intelligent dissent, and is deeply insecure in the face of anyone who might match or threaten his authority. His behaviour towards strong, articulate, dissent from man or woman has been totally consistent over 7 series: he dismisses the arguments out of hand, and humiliates the dissenter – cuts them down to size: his size – small. It is objectionable, mean-spirited and essentially weak.

I have mocked Vince unmercifully thus far for his vanity and his conceit but he was authoritative and comfortable as the PM; people worked well with him and there was the rare experience of the beginnings of a spirit of teamwork in LOGIC. What was he supposed, managerially to do with Jim? I thought he got it right: get a strong member of the team on the inside p*ssing out rather than on the outside p*issing in. OK it was a bit laddy and ‘bondy’ at times but precisely because it created a relaxed and easy atmosphere, no member of the team should have found it impossible to express a view. Tom did, even if yet again his intelligent perceptions were ignored: so what were Ellie and Natasha whingeing about? In contrast to getting a word in edgeways with plenty of other groupings in this series including some mostly women, the Vince-led LOGIC was easy-peasy.

For Sugar to complain that Vince was being tactical in who he brought back into the boardroom is just total bullsh*t: every PM, every week, in every episode, is tactical in who they bring back. No, the Sugar Lump was just deeply p*ssed off because Vince denied him the opportunity to fire Jim. Well good on yer Vince, nothing became you more in the programme than your manner of leaving it.

The other downside to this week is that Glen and Co will fondly imagine they won because they were so much better. Good merchandising and packaging – OK. But they only had half a good idea: Catsize was a good name but as we find again and again these young people appear to have no stamina to see an idea through development and improvement. They are ludicrously easily pleased with themselves and appear to have no concept of how to contribute to honing and polishing a promising idea or concept until its real possibilities are fully realised. Everyone in VENTURE and on the planet knew what Glen didn’t that the ‘see their light’ extension to the excellent Catsize was sh*t. No one ‘got it’ and alarm bells should have rung for Glen when he had to explain it to everyone – the Pantsman syndrome all over again. The idea was beyond redemption but would have made a little more sense as ‘see they’re light’. But still.

I find myself wondering: if they said that the winning Apprentice could either take the £250K and set up a business on his own, or become Alan Sugar’s partner – how many people would go for the partnership? I would never want Sugar in any team of mine: and what we see every week is him systematically trying to find someone just like him. As far as one can gather from the internet stories, the Good! lord has a consistent history of falling out with or shedding long-term collaborators.

If they did offer this of course our Good! lord is not committed to £250K in cash anyway: right at the beginning the weasel words were put in there: “£250K cash or value”. Now I wonder how much ‘value’ the old Sugar Lump attaches to the privilege of his personal Papal business infallibility.

I know The Apprentice is just entertainment. I know it’s not real. I know it’s shamefully manipulated. But with free-market capitalism now the only economic game in town and with insightful, effective, progressive modern management skills and leadership in such short supply in this country – we really can’t let the shoddy, destructive, poverty of managerial aspiration and professional standards that are passed off as desirable week in and week out on The Apprentice go without some kind of dissent. The most discouraging thing about The Apprentice is that so many intelligent and essentially likable young people come on the show having already bought in to this demeaning rubbish.

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