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A loathsome show and panto villain host

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    Posted: 11 May 2011 at 10:04

A loathsome show, a panto villain host and an insult to business

By Luke Johnson

Last updated at 9:06 AM on 11th May 2011

The public may enjoy watching Alan Sugar on The Apprentice, but I don’t believe the business community likes him or his loathsome TV show. 

I recently sat on a panel of self-made retailers, in front of an audience of hundreds of entrepreneurs. The biggest laugh of the day came when one of the most successful tycoons there produced a specially made loo roll: it had a picture of Lord Sugar on every sheet.

Originally, the BBC characterised The Apprentice as a business programme. Now, it admits that it is simply entertainment. I am all for popular TV — even if it’s a reality show. Indeed, I think such broadcasts can be educational, uplifting and fun.


The Apprentice is essentially a pantomime, full of circus clowns: since 2005, Sugar has been playing a theatrical villain in a pretend office on a TV stage that is about as authentic as Aladdin's lamp


The Apprentice was originally characterised as a business programme. But now the BBC admits that it is simply entertainment

While I was chairman of Channel 4, we had a big hit with Jamie’s School Dinners, which focused on the quality of food in educational establishments. But the BBC is the ultimate public service broadcaster: it needs to work to the highest standards. It can afford to make original transmissions, thanks to the compulsory £3 billion tax it levies in the form of a licence fee.

Instead, it lavishes money on tired formats such as The Apprentice, lacking the imagination or courage to invest in more challenging fare about entrepreneurship — programmes that would offer practical guidance to those thinking of founding a business.

This is a huge missed opportunity. Britain needs every entrepreneur it can get at the moment, because research shows that start-ups and early-stage companies are the prime source of new jobs. And as the necessary public sector cuts bite and unemployment rises, so the private sector must take up the slack — which means we need risk-takers who create jobs.


The main thing the public want to see is the boastful people be brought down a peg or two - and that's not very educational, or helpful, to anyone


Not respected in business: Recently other businessmen thought it was humorous to produce toilet paper which had Lord Sugar's head on every sheet

In the decades I have been founding and backing companies — including the restaurant chains Pizza Express and Strada — I’ve come to believe that role models are incredibly important in influencing young people who might start an enterprise.

We have many such figures in Britain — James Dyson, Richard Branson or Charles Dunstone of Carphone Warehouse, for example — who all run companies they have built from scratch and which employ thousands.

Baron Sugar of Clapton, on the other hand, valued by this weekend’s Rich List at £770 million, appears to be principally a property magnate — an industry that generates few jobs and no exports. It is no coincidence that the original version of The Apprentice in America is fronted by Donald Trump, a real-estate developer who is one of the more grotesque figures in U.S. public life.

Sadly, I think the appeal of The Apprentice is the desire to see cocky participants taken down a peg or two, and watch vicious back-biting between fierce rivals. It promotes the idea that companies are run by reptiles who serve only themselves, pandering to this negative impression in a desperate bid to win viewers, and peopling the show with caricature show-offs.


New season, same phoney talent show full of boastful wannabes

The Apprentice is essentially a pantomime, full of circus clowns: since 2005, Sugar has been playing a theatrical villain in a pretend office on a TV stage that is about as authentic as Aladdin’s lamp.

Genuine companies prosper thanks to teamwork, co-operation and consensus, not by bullying and back-stabbing. And innovative companies encourage experimentation — which inevitably includes mistakes — because that drives progress.

No real boss has said ‘You’re fired!’ for many years — they know that employment legislation these days is far more serious than that.

But television needs relentless drama to win big ratings — so it has a tendency to exaggerate and distort. The Apprentice is a prime case.


You're fired! Edward Hunter, first off this season's show, will not be winning the £250,000 to start up his own business

Not all reality TV about business is so awful. Undercover Boss is a much more enlightening show, while the classic of the genre was the Bafta-winning Troubleshooter series, a creation of the late British industrialist John Harvey-Jones.

He ran ICI, a vastly bigger concern than Sugar’s empire ever was. And Harvey-Jones was never much of a fan of Alan. ‘I always thought he was a bully,’ he once commented. ‘His values are, in my view, totally irrelevant to the needs of business.’

It is disappointing that the BBC can no longer make shows like Troubleshooter, in which Harvey-Jones visited real, struggling, small businesses and offered advice.


But generally I have found the BBC to be innately suspicious of business — perhaps that is why they have commissioned seven series of a programme which makes a mockery of the world of commerce.

Sugar accepted a peerage under the last government to become a ‘business czar’. Gordon Brown’s attempt to make political capital out of a reality TV judge was both ludicrous and depressing. I always understood that an invitation to sit in the House of Lords was granted for public service, rather than self-enrichment and self-publicity.


That Donald Trump is Lord Sugar's American equivalent shows how gross the franchise has become

Sugar appears to have voted on only seven occasions out of a possible 145 since he was ennobled in 2009, so one assumes the TV cameras must be more attractive than Westminster.

The new series of The Apprentice, which started last night, involves a twist: the winner will be given a £250,000 investment by Sugar to start a business instead of being offered a role within his company.

The whole set-up is so artificial that it’s unlikely to bear any relation to the truth about the mentoring of start-up entrepreneurs. In fact, I’d be amazed if the nascent business is launched.

Economists, politicians and the commercial world all accept that Britain needs myriad new ventures if we are to recover fully from the downturn.

We need a culture that embraces business, and accepts that capitalism underpins society. We must shrink the public sector and stimulate more people to become self-employed.

That means improving the image of entrepreneurs. Yet the opening credits of The Apprentice, Britain’s most-watched business show, invariably feature Sugar on a yacht or in a private jet. His recent autobiography is revealingly entitled What You See Is What You Get — and yet what we see isn’t very edifying.

My experience of truly successful businessmen and women is that they are not flash egotists. They graft because they are ambitious for their company — they want to create something worthwhile.

The Apprentice, on the other hand, is a phoney talent show full of boastful wannabes, made by people who should know better — and transmitted by a broadcaster that hates business.

  • Luke Johnson is a British serial entrepreneur and former chairman of Channel 4, best known for his involvement with Pizza Express

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1385761/Apprentice-2011-Loathsome-panto-villain-host-insult-business.html#ixzz1M26MwGIe
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