"I'm looking for a partner," Lord Sugar said, introducing himself to the contestants in The Apprentice, "the Marks to my Spencer, the Lennon to my McCartney." Comprehension stuttered briefly. Does Lord Sugar really think he's the sentimental, melodic one, the kind of man who would produce the corporate equivalent of "The Frog Chorus"? Does he really think that what he's lacked all these years is a bit of rock'n'roll abrasion? He said he was looking for "aggression" along with nous and business acumen, but he's hardly short of that quality as it is. It seemed more likely that he was looking for a Burke to his Hare, and the candidates, as usual, were very happy to run through their qualifications as trainee sociopaths. "When it comes to business, I'm like a shark," said Ricky. "I would call myself the Blonde Assassin," added Katie. "They call me the master puppeteer," boasted Azhar. Gabrielle, meanwhile, promised that she would "literally roar" her way to the top. Literally, Gabrielle? Not sure Lord Sugar's going to like that.
The opening challenge was a good one, simple to understand but with a generous latitude for the expression of incompetence. The teams had to buy a selection of unbranded items, stick a design on them and flog them to the public. The women's team, Sterling, came up with a charmingly amateur design of cartoon animals and a plan to target the mother-and-baby market. The men, Phoenix, decided to wedge themselves into the already crowded tourist tat sector, spending a long time working out their prices and margins and about two seconds (if that) on their branding – a double-decker bus and the Union Jack. "You've really thought out of the box, yeah?" said Duane tartly, when he got his first glimpse of the product.
Sadly, I have to report that unimaginative price-gouging triumphed over creativity, though naturally the editing did everything in its power to conceal that fact for as long as possible. While sales at the women's Greenwich market stall appeared to be roaring away (figuratively, Gabrielle, figuratively), the men's attempt to sell small Union Jack teddy bears at St Pancras, at a mark-up big enough to make even Lord Sugar blush, was depicted as a bit of a bust. I say "depicted" because you can't really trust anything you see in the central section of The Apprentice except for the insults and expressions of mutual contempt. The important thing is that we head into the boardroom section with no idea of who's going to be enduring the post-mortem.
Nick had said of Katie earlier: "She'd better start getting involved or they'll sense a weakness and turn on her." She didn't and they duly did, but there were other promising fault lines in the women's team that offered Katie a prospective escape from the role of solitary sacrificial offering. Bilyana, a Bulgarian risk analyst, had failed to accurately assess the substantial risk that she would drive everyone else nuts and Jane was going hard for Gabrielle, after becoming impatient with her management style (if you've ever wondered what Cruella de Vil looked like when she was 28, incidentally, Jane is the answer). In the end, though, it was Bilyana who went, something of a surprise to me given how much she delivered in terms of on-screen entertainment. Perhaps Lord Sugar really does want a business partner, and hasn't simply written his £250,000 off as a fair price for ammunition in his ongoing Twitter war with Piers Morgan.
If The Apprentice doesn't give you enough in the way of self-regarding egomaniacs, you'll be glad to know that Channel 4 has brought back Four Rooms, in which a quartet of antique dealers compete to buy overpriced curios and blow their own trumpets. Effortlessly rising above the brassy cacophony is Jeff Salmon, by some distance the most grating personality currently on television. Given the competition, that's quite an achievement.