SurAllun offers McQueen a great escape

'The Apprentice' might be compelling TV - but it doesn't exactly celebrate the best of British business...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Last night Sir Alan Sugar picked recruitment sales manager Lee McQueen to be his fourth Apprentice, choosing the Cockney geezer over retail buyer Claire Young in the final reckoning after the pair won the final challenge (to design and launch a new men’s fragrance). SurAllun described McQueen as ‘very, very convincing’ – which is a bit ironic given that last week it emerged that he’d lied on his CV, stretching out a four-month spell at university into two years. Apparently McQueen’s track record of never losing a challenge was more important than his demonstrable lack of integrity, which (we’re sure you’ll agree) is a very admirable attitude.

His reward will be a £100,000 a year job within SurAllun’s ‘business empire’, where apparently he’ll be working on a new digital advertising product. Since Sugar sold out of his technology business Amstrad last year, we’re not entirely sure what this will involve – but on the basis of his new Apprentice’s proven integrity and presentation skills, we can’t help feeling advertising is a brave choice. Let’s just hope it turns out to be as successful as those phones with TV screens…

‘The Apprentice’ seems to have hit even greater heights of popularity in this latest series – with almost 9m regular viewers, it’s become one of the biggest shows on TV. It’s easy to see why: watching all those egomaniacs kow-tow to the irascible pint-sized business maestro can certainly be compelling viewing (provided you can stand the occasional skin-crawling embarrassment). And let’s face it – a programme that can make a job working for SurAllun’s property business in Brentwood seem hugely aspirational is a creative tour de force by anyone’s standards.

On the other hand – call us kill-joys, but we can’t help feeling a bit uncomfortable that the Apprentice has become the most influential representation of business life on television. And it’s not just the string of dubious candidates that the producers manage to dredge up every year, with their ludicrous boasts and sycophantic bleating. It’s also the whole culture it celebrates – bosses shouting at their hapless underlings, interviewers asking unnecessarily aggressive and often sexist questions, candidates being encouraged to compete against each other constantly in a winner-takes-all environment... A survey this week actually revealed that SurAllun is now Britain’s favourite boss, which seems absolutely extraordinary (although perhaps he’s just the only one anybody knows these days?)

Of course it would be nice to see a business show that rewarded good manners, collaboration, integrity and sensitivity – but by TV standards, that’s likely to be about as compelling as an all-night Big Brother marathon. So as long as The Apprentice continues to pull in 9m viewers a week, we’re not holding our breath...

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