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Home truths in store...

Just how undercover is Undercover Boss? As with the series it most closely resembles, The Secret Millionaire, there's always the sneaking suspicion that what we're seeing is not 100pc real.

I'm not saying it's totally faked either, although I did wonder why the staff of British discount chain Poundworld were so willing to share their gripes with a complete stranger called "John Farmer", in reality Martyn Birks, a Poundworld director for 25 years and practically a brother to company founder Chris Edwards, who claimed to be making a documentary about looking for work at 50.

Have they never seen a single episode of Undercover Boss, despite this being the third series, or do they just assume that there must be lots of middle-aged people out job-seeking with a camera crew in tow? And even if they were completely taken in, why where they so eager to risk the sack by trashing their employer on national TV?

The economic bust has meant a boom for Poundworld, which is opening a new store practically every week, but staff turnover is 25pc. At the first store he visited, Birks met Dave, who puts in six-day weeks for minimum wage to provide for his children.

Birks wasn't impressed when Dave described the stock as "crap" and said the company regards its staff as "foot soldiers" and "pond life". The staffroom is cramped and filthy, and a worker failing to clock in or clock out is docked two hours' pay.

"I think it's disgusting that they should be penalised like that," said Birks, having forgotten to clock in himself. "There should be some leeway."

In Poundworld's most profitable store, in Nottingham, staff morale isn't so much low as hiding in the basement. "We're not really a team, it's like staff versus management," said a young chap called Stephen, who complained that the store's manager, Malwina, talks down to staff.

But as Birks discovered, Malwina is herself under ferocious pressure from the higher-ups -- in other words, him and Edwards -- and is just as afraid of losing her job as the people working under her.

One of the company's oldest stores, in Kirby in Liverpool, is a dump. The delivery yard is a health and safety hazard, the goods lift is permanently out of order and place hasn't felt a lick of pain in years.

His mission complete, Birks summoned the staff he'd met to Poundworld head office for the big reveal. Malwina was given a week off and told her family would be flown in from Poland for a holiday. The two women running the Kirby store were sent on a pampering weekend at a spa hotel.

Disgustingly, Birks let outspoken Dave stew for a couple of minutes before he told him he wouldn't be sacked. Instead, Poundworld would send him and his kids on an all-expenses-paid holiday -- on the understanding that he'd be a good wage slave and keep his comments to himself.

"There's nothing we can do about the minimum wage, that's the nature of the business," added Birks. Of course it is, if you're the one running the business.

Having slammed Charity ICA Bootcamp on Monday, I found myself laughing out loud during last night's edition, solely because of the inimitable Dickie Rock.

The celebs had to do a life drawing of a nude male model. Dickie wondered of the instructor what he should draw. "Whatever you see in the frame," she said.

"His mickey!" said Dickie. They don't make celebrities like they used to.

They don't make scandals like they used to, either, judging by Scannal, which recalled the 1983 All-Ireland Football Final between Galway and Dublin. The match descended into chaos as both teams began punching and kicking the bejaysus out of one another, resulting in four players being sent off. Funnily enough, most of the former players involved claim it was all the ref's fault for being too strict. Role models, eh!



undercover boss (c4) HHIII charity ica bootcamp (rte1) HHIII scannal (tg4) HIIII


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