TV preview: The Apprentice

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It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since Lord Sugar opened the doors of his shiny boardroom to the first batch of Apprentice candidates.

And while the business prowess of some contestants could be called into question, one thing’s for sure: this show has given 110 per cent when it comes to entertainment.

THE CONTESTANTS

The Apprentice never fails to attract a brilliant mix of truly talented and hideously puffed-up candidates, some of whom are forever etched in our memory.

In series three, we met Katie Hopkins, who, despite displaying a gift for ruthlessness and back-stabbing, made it to the final three. She turned down a place in the final (claiming she didn’t want to uproot her family), but quitting early didn’t do her career any harm - these days, you’ll regularly find Hopkins mouthing off on daytime TV or engaging in squabbles on Twitter.

Then there was Stuart “everything I touch turns to sold” Baggs, the series six contestant who modestly labelled himself “The Brand”. For reasons we still can’t quite understand, the then-21-year-old managed to make it to the semi-final, where he made one last impassioned plea: “I’m not a one-trick pony, I’m not a 10-trick pony, I’ve got a field of ponies waiting to literally run towards this.”

Remember ‘Jedi Jim’ Eastwood from series seven? Whether he was selling umbrellas to tourists in Covent Garden, or bagging a bargain from a fruit and veg seller, no one was immune from the Northern Irishman’s charms. He even managed to convince project manager Leon Doyle to change his mind about bringing him back to the boardroom after an unsuccessful task. Eastwood made Apprentice history with a sales order of £1.6m for his team’s biscuits, but this wasn’t enough to save him from the boardroom axe.

THE BOSS

Singing a cappella for Simon Cowell. Presenting Paul Hollywood with a burnt loaf of bread. Eating the congealed leftovers from an I’m A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! bushtucker trial... There are many things which would be preferable to a boardroom dressing-down from Alan - “the only fair you’re gonna get is your bloody train fare home” - Sugar. Love him or hate him, Lord Sugar makes great TV, and there’s no doubt his no-nonsense approach has helped make the show a ratings hit.

But just as Batman needs his Robin and Alvin needs his Chipmunks, Lord Sugar couldn’t do without his boardroom sidekicks. When they’re not hosting Countdown or attending West Ham matches, Karren Brady and Nick Hewer can always be relied upon to keep a wry eye on contestants.

We’ll also always have a soft spot for Brady’s predecessor Margaret Mountford, who sat by Lord Sugar’s side for the first five series, and her priceless reply on learning that one candidate had studied Classics at Edinburgh University: “I think Edinburgh isn’t what it used to be.”

THE TASKS

We’re not quite sure how presenting on a shopping channel or appearing in a fake TV ad prepare you for life as a business mogul, but seeing the candidates try their hand at performing and directing certainly makes for entertaining viewing. Despite having their every move filmed for the duration of the show, they have a habit of going all starry-eyed when it’s lights, camera, action for a task.

Every series, the candidates also pack their shoulder-padded suits for a trip to a far-flung location. We’ve seen them try and flog British cheese to the French, sell crisps in Hamburg, and go shopping in Dubai. But our favourite overseas episode was in series four, when self-proclaimed “good Jewish boy” Michael got kosher chicken confused with halal in Morocco.

Never had an Apprentice candidate stepped down as project manager until last year, when Jason Leech discovered he couldn’t quite cut it as team leader during the dating website task. To be fair, if we’d had Luisa Zissman sniping in our ear (or “nipping at the heels of a bewildered sheep”, as Nick put it), we’d probably have ran screaming for the hills.

The Apprentice, Monday 9pm, BBC1

Mark Walsh.

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