Last Night's Viewing: The Apprentice, BBC1
Spot test and no cheating. Name three of the current Apprentice contenders. Too hard? Then just name one. If you managed either, I'd be impressed. I couldn't and it's my job to know these kind of things. But the truth is that we're eight weeks in now and nobody has emerged as a distinctive character.
There's no Baggs the Brand or Ruth Badger to key up our anticipation of the next episode. This is, it should be said, to the contestants' credit. Competence levels might not be notably up on previous series but I think it's fair to say that idiocy levels have dropped sharply, and that brings with it a matching diminution of memorable moments. We've had nothing to compare with the delirious wrong-headedness of Pantsman, that ill-fated attempt to brand a new children's cereal around a pair of Y-fronts. And those taking part seem a bit nicer too, so that there haven't been any of the hissing exchanges of venom that get a programme talked about next day. No Mr Pinot or Mr Grigio.
Last night involved the art sale challenge, and the fact that this task has become a regular fixture tells its own story about an increasingly tired format. It isn't just that the shape of each week's programme has an almost liturgical predictability, with its entrances, homilies, confessions and sermons. But there's also now a degree of inevitability to how the tasks play out. Last night was the one where we're supposed to laugh at how little they know about art – and how far they make that little stretch – and it had been given a mildly novel twist this time round by the fact that the teams were required to sell urban street art, both to walk-in gallery-goers and a business client.
It's only fair to say that the combination of product and people did turn up the odd comic moment. Driving down to Bristol to talk to graffiti artists, Nick and Ricky discussed the need to tone down the corporate look: "I think we should take off our ties," Nick suggested boldly. "Run that past Gabby," replied Ricky, who was clearly worried that this dress-down thing might get out of hand. But by the standards of previous series the failures here were dull affairs – sins of omission that don't make much of a mark on screen. One team forgot to ask their corporate client what their budget was, and Tom, who rather fancied himself as a connoisseur of graffiti art, showboated his knowledge so earnestly that he completely neglected to show any interest in the artist he was attempting to charm. "Having knowledge, having expertise, having rapport obviously counts for nothing," he said sulkily, when he learned that his target had been seduced by the other side. It looked to me like a very Ikea version of urban grit, but it sold well enough to make the difference on the night. Laura got sacked, if you really care one way or the other.
"I've been jousting for 20 years," said Tobias Capwell in Metalworks!, which means, I guess, that he literally does know his subject – armour – from the inside out. His film was about court armour in the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, which sounds like a Mastermind specialist topic but turned out to be an intriguing blend of power projection and international branding. "I think this armour is an elaborate early form of press release," Capwell said about one of Henry's spiffier suits, intended to underline his status as the very model of a Christian prince. As a woman, Elizabeth couldn't wear armour but she cannily licensed her male admirers to buy their outfits from the royal armourer in Greenwich, setting off a sartorial arms race among her courtiers. One of Sir Christopher Hatton's suits cost £500, the equivalent of over a £1m today. He got the kudos. His heirs got the debt.
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