Dear Lord Sugar
Tonight I tuned in eager to watch this year's offering of Apprentice wannabes tackle the challenges you set before them as they bid to become a big player in the rat race world of business. Matching socks and ties aplenty, the usual suitcase dragging, trench coat wearing, shifty-eyed entrepreneur types all looking to impress and be top of the pile whilst insisting they are ‘team players’. I, alongside millions of others, will tune in each week and enjoy every moment of awkwardness as they butt heads, don silly costumes (those yellow fisherman's friends outfits!), fluff sales pitches and occasionally (rarely!) display the sparkle of sound business acumen.
However, as I watch the show, which I consider to be worth the licence fee alone, the people I see are in no way a reflection of the world around me. Sure there’s an eclectic mix of characters - the cockney wide boy Lothario, the sourpuss lipstick-clad teacher-type, the plummy Oxford toff but none from the Britain that surrounds me.
I am surrounded by unemployment and zero hour contracts, by people using payday loans to buy their kids' school uniforms, people who feed their families for a week on a tenner, teens risking prison and sometimes their lives to turn £20 into £40 to make sure their mum can have some electric. I see the resourcefulness of someone who can stretch their JSA over a fortnight and still put a fiver away for Christmas, the perseverance of a mum who drags her child along to her cash-in-hand cleaning job for £4 an hour just to keep that child in nappies, old-timers flogging veg they have grown to supplement their pensions, disability groups running cake sales and coffee mornings to take the edge of their funding cuts.
This is the Britain I see. This is where the real Apprentices lie.
It is a cliché to say that these folk have served at the University of Life, or the school of hard knocks. That's a romanticised myth to mask the misery and tragedy that living on the poverty line can bring. However as I wait in anticipation to see these fortunate, ambitious, educated entrepreneurs manoeuvring, overspending, wheeling, dealing and backstabbing their way to the top, trying to sell fish to vegans, I can’t help feeling they are a little bit clueless.
While The Apprentice doesn’t overtly celebrate the upper classes or the social elite, it certainly has the oppressive undertones to keep the plebs in their place. The Saville Row, sharp-cut designer suits, the constant taxi travel, the losers that sit glumly looking at their lukewarm brew in a backstreet café. Guess what Alan! There’s a huge section of Britain that have never owned a suit, never booked a taxi and going out for a cup of tea is a indulgence beyond justification! While the show aims to reward those with resourcefulness, the ability to rise above the rest, to defy all odds and make money to win, it totally marginalises those that have such abilities in abundance, just their triumphs come in a different form. There’s a mate of a mate who has made an empire unblocking drains, armed with only a pair of rickety ladders, a woman doing £5 haircuts from her second floor flat, the bloke who dredges lakes for golf balls in the dead of night, all can do a better job despite the ways society tries to knock them down.
It's an old adage that money breeds money but we are reminded of it on a daily basis with tales of the Bullingdon Club, fat cat criminal bankers and tax breaks for the rich. However, money doesn’t breed the qualities you are looking for in an apprentice. Initiations involving burning bank notes in front of those sleeping rough, the upper classes proving that they literally don't understand the value of money. Wouldn't you rather have the homeless person at the helm, carrying their livelihood in a stained rucksack, trading a kind smile or a song for small change, turning shrapnel into food? Or those families scraping by on benefits, eating from food banks, working below minimum wage, selling what they shouldn’t have to just to get by. Don’t they demonstrate all the attributes to be a success? There is an army of people out there just waiting for their chance to shine, a chance that you are currently affording to this new crop of hapless hopefuls.
Benefits Britain, Benefits Street, Skint and Proud, the list goes on and on. All media ploys to judge and ridicule the poor and keep people in their place. Rich media execs painting a picture to alienate wider society, to muddy the waters enough to reduce any empathy towards 'benefits scroungers’. Where are the programmes about wheezing children crammed in mouldy flats, queues at food banks, borrowing just to eat? Are they that scared that a bit of truth might raise consciousness amongst the masses enough to rouse a rabble of feckless, workshy, layabouts to come together and derail their gravy train?
As a man of influence, media sway and political clout to be a pivot for change, I urge you to put the reality into reality TV and make your show a real spotlight on the potential in Great Britain. For the next series of The Apprentice scour the job centres, those backstreet bistros you send your losers, and you will have a series that might just change the world. Real innovation, resourcefulness, people giving their all, hunger like you have never known, a real need to take this chance. Take a tip from the first episode, the plain and simple fish fingers were popular did the job and brought in the cash, while people turned their nose us at the pricey tuna salad, and the calamari started to stink. Sometimes the answer lies in those left at the back of the iced up shelf of life's freezer.
This show could be the greatest business decision of your life.
Or at least sneak a couple in, put them in the mix with the usual suspects and watch them stand out. At the very least it will make interesting TV. It could change perceptions, aspirations and dreams, it could change lives. An inspiration for the disillusioned and disenfranchised in Britain that they can and will achieve.
You once spoke out about your dislike for expectancy culture, a stick often used to beat those who feature as overnight, tabloid celebrities of Benefit Britain. The time has come to put your faith in those whose only expectation is to be trodden on from above. Give it a whirl Sir Alan, it might just be the greatest deal you ever made! It will certainly make you more than a poxy £1.87!
Yours hopefully, truly hopefully,
Graham Brown (@GBrownSWork)