Simon Hoggart

Srallen’s pain

The Apprentice (BBC1); The Passions of Vaughan Williams (BBC4)

I used to have one of Alan Sugar’s old Amstrad computers; in fact I wrote two books on it. The great advantage it had over modern computers was its slowness; you could literally make a cup of tea while it saved a page of text, and prepare a three-course meal while it saved a chapter. Modern computers don’t provide that luxury. They’re like dogs after you’ve thrown the first stick; they just sit there panting eagerly, demanding more and more words.

Amstrad stood for A.M. Sugar Trading, though these days the company makes nothing except money, being devoted to property deals. The owner has become ‘Sir’ Alan, a fact of which he is clearly very proud, though frankly, looking at some of the riff-raff who get knighthoods these days, I wouldn’t be too thrilled myself. Either way, everyone calls him ‘Sir Alan’, or rather, ‘Srallen’. If he marketed a new computer it would presumably be called the Samstrad. Once he famously signed a card for his wife ‘Sir Alan Sugar’, explaining later that it had been a busy day in the office. Don’t they give you a little booklet at the Palace, explaining that you never use the title of yourself? The correct form is: ‘Alan Sugar here’. ‘Is that Sir Alan?’ ‘Why, yes, as a matter of fact it is.’

None of which explains the extraordinary popularity of his show The Apprentice (BBC1, Wednesday). It is the second most watched programme on the BBC, after EastEnders. Srallen himself is no beauty; he has been compared to a well-worn bog brush. The contestants are worse. They are trying to elbow each other aside to earn what is breathlessly described as ‘a six-figure income working for Sir Alan’; at £100,000 it’s the lowest six-figure income possible (Calvin Trillin used to claim the Nation paid him a four-figure sum per article, the four figures being $67.45

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