Jim Eastwood from Belfast is confident, attractive, plausible, a good talker and makes a decent first impression, all qualities you’d think would give him a chance of winning this year’s Apprentice contest on BBC. Unfortunately for Jim, he’s also manipulative, passive aggressive, sly, disloyal and hard to shut up. His days on this programme are numbered.
That certainly, was the impression given by the last night’s Apprentice, in which Jim narrowly escaped being fired by Lord Sugar, who will be setting up a company with this year’s winner, and is looking for little more than somebody he can trust (preferably with a brain) to do business with.
Jim escaped the axe last night mainly because the person who was fired, Glenn Ward, is an engineer. And as Sugar said, in one of the many cutting one-liners which make the programme worth watching: “I’ve never yet come across an engineer that could turn his hand to business”. Earlier, he’d suggested that Glenn was ”one of those people who thought Only Fools And Horses was a business documentary”. He never stood a chance, really, did poor Glenn.
Last night’s task involved the creation of a free magazine and the subsequent attempt to sell the concept to hard-nosed advertising buyers. The winning team would be the one who sold the most ads. Jim’s team - he was the leader- set up a magazine for energetic older people called, bizarrely, Hip Replacement.
“Everybody thinks you die at 60”, one of the team said early on, suggesting that these people didn’t really know their market. This impression hardened when they visited a group of bowls players to see what they thought should go in the magazine, and proceeded to patronise them, suggesting they might like a puzzles section to keep their brains ticking over, and wondering whether humour was something that older people picked up easily.
In the end, they ignored any advice they got: one of the articles in the first edition of Hip Replacement was a guide to using mobile phones.
If that magazine didn’t seem like a winner, neither did its rival, a “tasteful” lads mag called Covered, although it had least had the advantage that the team who conceived it understood the market a little better. The advertising people agreed that it had potential, and that it was the kind of publication they would send some money on.
Covered was declared the winner and Jim’s team were called to Sugar’s office to find out who would be fired.
This is where The Apprentice comes into its own. At the start of the programme, the contestants who started off a few months ago are described as “sixteen of Britain’s entrepreneurial elite”, which, if true, suggests that Britain is in big trouble. They certainly don’t come across like that.
Mostly, they give the impression that they’re not the sharpest tools in the shed and that they believe that success in business is all about personality and has very little to do with talent, ability, or taking responsibility. In Sugar’s office last night, the four candidates for the sack squabbled, fought, lied and tried to blame each other for their failure.
It was like watching a group of 10-year-olds after a particularly bad school concert.. Not all the contestants in The Apprentice are like that, of course, and you have to think that one or two worthy winners will emerge from the crowd over the coming weeks. But it would be a big surprise if Jim Eastwood was one of them.