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BBC The Apprentice (1) – Learning When To Shut Up


Silly Bily




The Apprentice (1) – Learning When To Shut Up

An Apprentice first: firing a likely winner in the first episode. No, don’t shout at me: I agree Bilyana had a bad attack of verbal diarrhoea in the boardroom and played a full part in the undignified but regular Apprentice game of shaft the sister. However when an intelligent, assured, successful professional woman grasps in desperation at the straw that she was made Head Girl at her school, then you know the pressure of context has taken over her mind and especially her mouth. It was clear from a rather engaging performance on You’re Fired later, that not only was she ashamed and embarrassed at how she had behaved but that she knew as she was doing it, how dumb and self-defeating she was being.

The first rule of selling: when you’ve made the sale – stop selling. Having brought your customer to buy, more selling can only change her mind. It was clear that Baron Sugar – ‘Barley’ to his chums – had already made up his mind to sack ‘this-is-all-beneath-me-so-I-can’t-be-arsed’ Katie when Silly Bily suddenly went into verbal overdrive and jumped ship.

It isn’t enough for new Apprentices to have watched past programmes: you have to know what to look for. Silly Bily obviously hadn’t learned anything about Barley. She has four dangerous qualities Barley-wise: gender, beauty, intelligence and most dangerous of all – strength. We all know Barley Sugar, ‘BS’ for short, is harder on women than guys; likes street smart but hates genuine intellectual weight; likes a pretty face but not attached to a challenging mind; and can only deal with dissent by mocking it and chopping the dissenter off at the knees. Obeisance before obedience is pretty much the Barley management ethos as the embarrassing little ritual of choral response “Good morning Lord Sugar” shows every week. “This is my boardroom and by the way it’s my money” so FIFO rules – Fit In or F*ck Off.

If this were a business process rather than a game show; if this were a real boardroom rather than a carefully orchestrated set; Lord Barley would be the worst Chairman in corporate history. As a real chairman BS would manage the meeting to keep participants focussed and relevant; guide them back to the issues; discipline disruptive and divisive contributions. However Barley knows his Game show Host role and is beginning to enjoy it with little pre-polished bon mots with which to maintain his ascendency and the carefully cultivated East End barrow-boy inverted snobbery. I liked the one about looking for a Lenin for his Marx – or something like that.

So BS only tells anyone to shut up once: when Silly Bily ploughed on blindly through twice we knew her days were numbered. Yet again, if this were a genuine business process everything about her performance suggested she should stay: she pointed out that London Zoo is in the middle of a park with no nearby back-up outlets if the retail sales fell short. She several times tried to get her team off to the Zoo and begin to sell instead of faffing around. She was not especially bossy or pushy in Apprentice terms until none of her team mates would listen to plain common sense. She was an excellent, natural salesperson at the zoo where for some mysterious reason instead of all three girls with their separate stock trays selling independently; the brain-numbing strategy of taking turns to sell one at a time was somehow fashioned presumably out of an MBA-like brain. (Barley isn’t all wrong about clever-clever ideas over effective action).

On You’re Fired later comedian Jo Caulfield made a very acute observation about why apparently all the others claimed to not be able to work with Bily: as Jo said Bily didn’t do the ‘British’ thing of specious modesty “well I’m not much good but I’ll have a go if you like”. This is palpable hypocrisy in this case where believing you’re God’s gift to the Global economy is a condition of participation.

The other factor at play here was that anyone could see Bily was a threat so instinctively a bully Bily tone was fed by the occasional tendency for good looking women to feel hostile towards a genuinely beautiful sister. Before you descend on me with righteous wrath ladies – I concede that as a mere male I am innately prone to the fatal fallacy that beautiful looks must be associated with a beautiful nature. It works the same with guys by the way. However that wilful blindness notwithstanding I did feel over the two programmes that here was an engaging, likeable but self-assured woman with common sense and a good appreciation of the critical parameters of the task. I would have loved to see the battle that would have taken place between her and The Lord Barley. It’s one of the delights of the programme to see someone, especially female, wind him up.

One of the most depressing things about The Apprentice context is how little the candidates learn about business from the process. This week’s task was rich in experience posing interesting questions: the girls had a well thought through, intelligently designed, superbly executed product, good enough to sell shed-loads. The boys sold lazily designed, pathetically executed crap. It would have been interesting to try to get the teams to try to understand this conundrum – both might have learned something. But as ever in Sugarland – get it, flog it, bank it rules. It is perhaps as ever location, location, location: with an instinct for tat, the guys picked a perfect location to capture the buyers-of-crap tourist market.

Otherwise a quiet start. The usual hubristic deluding vids seemed pretty small beer though Ricky – Livin’ La Vida Loca – Martin’s daytime business genius and night-time wrestler who is he confides “the reflection of perfection”, offers some hope of fun to come. I also have high hopes of sales guru, follicly gifted Stephen Brady whose infallible sales pitch advice this week of “would you like something no one else has got?” although not a classic of theApprentice fatuous remarks genre presages laughs to come. As Dara said on YF – it sounds a bit like offering someone a new strain of Herpes.

Plenty of eye-candy for all four tastes; with hunky Nick already missing out on a sale because he wouldn’t include himself in the sale price of his crappy bag to a female customer who I must protest was definitely objectifying him as a sex object. Has the man no dedication to the cause? Sacrifices must be made. Maria O’Connor definitely wins the first skirmish in the image impact stakes: obviously going through a purple period make-up and accessory-wise. With a voice like a strangled fog horn we must hope that Jenna doesn’t get really angry at any stage.

Nick Hewer obviously hasn’t earned enough to afford a pair of specs yet, squinting disapprovingly like a myopic Meerkat with a dead rat on his lap. Karen ‘kiss-me’ Hardy has her usual 20/20 hindsight vision about what went wrong; and now firmly part of the Establishment The Good lord Barley is relishing his role as the Spiv who came in from the cold.

Best line of the week actually comes from next week’s show: rollicking wrestling Ricky delivering the judgement that “basically we’ve discovered the bin.”

Welcome back Strictly Dumb Prancing – we’ve missed you.

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