Last Night's Viewing: Young Apprentice, BBC1 The Year the Town Hall Shrank, BBC4


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The Independent Culture

It must be something of a relief for the BBC to get Young Apprentice back on air. Look, it can say, here's a star broadcaster we can be absolutely confident is safe with teenagers. Lord Sugar might jab his stubby finger at them from time to time and growl dyspeptically about cost-control, but at least there won't be anything untoward going on.

Unless, that is, you take the view that Young Apprentice constitutes a form of abuse in itself, exposing its guileless participants to the derision of the more uncharitable viewer. Some sort of grooming must be involved, you find yourself thinking, as you watch the traditional parade of twattery that conventionally opens a new series. Surely they didn't do this to themselves? When Maria said: "I may look like a five-foot-one blond angel, but inside I have the heart of a lioness", can we be sure no adult hand has gently nudged her over the line dividing self-confidence from self-incrimination?

Still, it's a ruthless world at the top, a point that's driven home by the microscopic adjustments to the established format. There was a time, for example, when Canary Wharf was unchallenged as a symbol of thrusting capitalist vigour. But then the Gherkin came along and edged it out of the glamour shots and now the Shard makes all the running, circled by the helicopter at dusk as if to imply that this is the new location for Lord Sugar's windowless penthouse HQ, from where he deals out his overworked gags and admonitory mottoes. "I don't like teacher's pets," he warned the new intake last night, "and I don't like school bullies." And then he packed them off to sort through a ton of discarded clothing and attempt to turn a profit at the raggedy end of the rag trade.

Patrick, a self-possessed young dandy with sequined lapels, put himself forward to run the boys team, while Ashleigh, a bridal shop assistant and accountancy student, volunteered for bossiness duties on the other side. Maximilian, who'd already boasted about his 11 A stars at GCSE and had experience in selling vintage clothing, was meanwhile focusing his attention on impressing the audience at home. "I particularly enjoy the pre-Socratics, early classical philosophers," he told us, "Plato, Aristotle, Heraclitus etc..." Well, one out of three isn't bad, Max, and I guess Lord Sugar's not going to be too picky about the distinction between pre- and post-Socratic Hellenic thought. He does get the hump if you don't pitch in with the selling though, as Max later found to his cost.

Patrick was very lucky frankly, having succumbed to his creative impulses to create a wetsuit-kimono hybrid that briefly piqued the interest of a Brick Lane boutique owner but ultimately failed to fill the fatal dent it had put in the budget. The girls also had a bad moment when they attempted to wash their stock in a launderette tumble dryer (complete with soap powder), but a combination of hard-sell and Ashleigh's tight-fistedness eventually delivered them the first victory.

Lord Sugar thinks it's young people like this who are going to pull us out of the recession. Meanwhile, it's people like Mohammed Pervez and John van de Laarschot who are having to cope with its effects, as leader and chief executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council. James Newton's film, The Year the Town Hall Shrank, depicted the grim business of local politics in hard times, with the council having to cut eight per cent out of its budget. Any doubts about where its sympathies lay disappeared as soon as you heard the echo effect someone had added to the clip of David Cameron saying, "We are all in this together", which was tantamount to an on-screen caption reading "Hollow words". All the same, its reminder of the real distress and anxiety that lie behind the abstract statistics of "retrenchment" was timely.