The Third Leader: You're hired!

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The Independent Online

So: a nation expels it breath. The blonde won, and the Badger was fired, to join all the others who have blinked, mumbled and headed for the boardroom door after feeling the full force of the scary stare of Sir Alan. Who, whatever else you might think about The Apprentice, is a star.

Why is this? Well, mostly because, in the great tradition of unlikely television celebrity, Sir Alan is an old eccentric. Indeed, he has moved eccentricity on to a higher level. No flapping arms and over-excitement; for Sir Alan, less is more. His appeal is a splendidly deadpan exaggeration of that first rule of success in most human endeavour: take everything, but especially yourself, extremely seriously. He is a Brando, the very Gervais, at it.

Conscious or unconscious? Not important to the effect: but it is equally intriguing that someone could be either such a remarkable actor or really like that. What else? The beard, another inspired touch, as I'm certain Sir Alan would consider one on anybody else a bit dodgy. I also wonder about the effect on him of that surname.

The wider message of The Apprentice? A harsh condemnation of contemporary business style and ethics, a worrying reflection of current standards of managerial potential? I prefer to compare it to that fine series, Brass, starring Timothy West as Bradley Hardacre, an earlier, northern Sir Alan, with a similar catchphrase: "Well, I can't stop chatting here all day, I've got men to lay off."

A pity, though, all the same, for Charles Clarke and Jack Straw, that the Prime Minister, another great eccentric, is clearly such a fan.