Last Night's TV: The Apprentice/BBC1
Thursday 18 November 2010
I have to tell you I ain't putting up with him for much longer," said Lord Sugar in the very first episode of the current series of The Apprentice. He was talking about Baggs the Brand, gratingly self-regarding even by this programme's exacting standards for cocky self-love. As it turned out, though, Lord Sugar has had to put up with him for six long weeks, which may have been why he made him a project manager for last night's episode. He doesn't have any means of guaranteeing that someone ends up in the boardroom, after all, but he can at least shorten the odds a bit. Up against Baggs the Brand was Sandeesh of the Scary, Starey Eyes, the two of them competing to see who could most successfully sell novelty back-projection DVDs to London shoppers.
I think it's fair to say that Baggs the Brand was cheerful about his elevation. "Yeah, I'll work in the ranks if I have to," he confided to us, "but only to get to the top." Almost immediately his new employees were enjoying a first-hand experience of his managerial vision, which is that the people immediately beneath you are for standing on so you can reach a little higher. His technique for soliciting opinions and comments is intriguing too: he waits until the speaker has said one or two words of a sentence and then barks at them to get to the point – the point, apparently, being to agree with what he's already decided to do. "Stuart's leadership style leaves me trembling with irritation," said Nick, who, let us remember, has seen bad things before and felt able to leave it to his eyebrows to do the talking. Baggs the Brand was meanwhile congratulating his team on their brilliance in caving in to his bullying: "Every decision has panned out to be right," he said happily.
Except, one takes it, for the one he reversed a few hours later, when it finally dawned on him, long after his team-mates, that children, not adults, might be the best market for a juddery green-screen montage that purportedly showed you racing round Brands Hatch. "I have to rein in my own extreme masculinity in this task," he said, with an affectionate smile at his own overflowing merit. If this had been a coded way of acknowledging that he's an unrestrained knob he wouldn't have heard any contradiction from me, but sadly I think Stuart was in earnest. As he deployed his troops on the eve of battle he made it clear to Laura and Stella that failure would be laid squarely at their door. "I don't want anyone arse-covering," he said. "Hate that as a practice. No arse-covering. Clearly defined roles. Happy days." One arse at least was out in the open for all to see.
On the other team, Sandeesh was doing that thing that a lot of Apprentice candidates do – persuasively deploying the rhetoric and style of a competent senior executive while getting nearly every significant decision wrong. She appointed the people who'd been trained to operate the equipment as the salesforce and consigned the team's most gifted salespeople to a backroom. She also began selling an hour after her rivals and left it fatally late before acquiring the one indispensable tool required for attracting the pre-school demographic, a sit-in toy car. The production team did their best to edit this into a cliff-hanger, with the help of some technical cock-ups from the other team, and his lordship gave Baggs the Brand a bit of a going-over in the boardroom, particularly when he attempted to suggest that selling customers a DVD for what they'd actually agreed to pay constituted a "goodwill gesture". But there was no arguing with the bottom line, which cruelly spared him for another day. Sugar – who didn't make much effort to conceal his feelings that the wrong people were lined up for execution – despatched Sandeesh instead, after a very precisely judged rearguard action from Liz (you can put money on her for the final right now, I'd say). "Lucky for us that you made so many screw-ups," said Stella pointedly, when the survivors returned, "because you could have won, and you should have won." Baggs the Brand shot her a most speaking look.
Down at the Edwardian Farm they've taken delivery of some cows (Devon Ruby Reds, very good for beginners apparently) and set the cottage goats to clearing the land for a strawberry crop, this particular stretch of the Tamar valley enjoying a microclimate that makes it perfect for market gardening. Ruth salted a ham and smoked some bacon and the two men went off to the field to practise driving a team of shire horses, prior to trying their hands at the plough. Very important to get straight lines, it seems, since wobbly ones make it very tricky to weed easily. They also went off to brew some scrumpy to pay their labourers with, an enterprise that didn't seem compatible with straight lines at all. I'm not entirely convinced that Alex is one of nature's poultrymen, after the sequence that showed him ushering one of his hens into a reclaimed chicken shed with the encouraging words, "In you go, boy", but they ended up with a lot of eggs anyway, and celebrated by boiling up the cockerel for a Halloween party. Professor Ronald Hutton, something of a fixture in these things, supplied unsalted ham to go with the feast, going wildly over the top with his account of Dartmoor folklore.
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