The Apprentice: series seven, week three

Top hats, tea and no sympathy - Lord Sugar sends the teams on a buying mission for The Savoy hotel

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What’s that, Lord Sugar? “This is all about whether you’ve got the balls to actually smell what’s going on in business?” Now I know some people can’t tell their arse from their elbow but if Lord Sugar is using the family jewels to sniff out deals… well, I wouldn’t want to bump into him in a florist’s on Mother’s Day.

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Introductions over, the candidates head for The Savoy hotel. It’s about to reopen for business after a three-year, multi-million-pound refurb and – d’oh! – the manager has just realised he’s missed a few things off his shopping list. He needs two crack teams of buyers to come in and bail him out. Well, tough, he’s getting this lot…

Yes, it’s the buying task, and while the teams are struggling to identify items such as physalis and cloches, I am coming to terms with just how middle-class I am, given that I know what every item on the list is. Also vaguely wondering what three-ply toilet paper feels like…

Gavin takes charge of team Logic. Let me rephrase that. Gavin is appointed project leader, and promptly goes to pieces.

The whole team is a mess. No one is making any decisions and everyone’s working entirely independently. It’s like the blind leading the blind, which is ironic considering Gavin runs an optician’s.

Vincent – the smarmy one with the unconvincing superiority complex – leads three girls in the sub-team, appointing Zoe his PA and barging in every time Ellie is about to close a deal. He barges in on Natasha’s deals too, but there’s really no damage done interrupting a woman who expects The Ritz to hand over a list of its suppliers and whose negotiation technique is to ruthlessly add a tenner to her offer after every breath.

I can see two possible explanations for Vincent. One: he had a doting grandmother who, throughout his childhood, told him he was “a very special boy” and that he’d be “a heartbreaker” when he grew up, and despite all evidence to the contrary, he sometimes still believes it. Two: he’s a not-so-great Gatsby (little literary reference for you there) – someone ashamed of his humble beginnings, who has attempted to reinvent himself as confident, sophisticated and dashing but can never quite escape his past or the truth that he is, in fact, crap.

Then again, what do I know? I used to think Stuart Baggs was an idiot…

Venture visit a “hat makers to the aristocracy”, where they discover that a top hat costs £365. When the shopkeeper is out of earshot, Felicity whispers to Susie, “Do you not think it might be cheaper to go to a fancy dress shop?” On the one hand, she’s right, it would be. On the other hand, I’m not sure The Savoy’s reputation as one of the world’s most prestigious hotels would remain intact for long if its staff were all dressed by Jimmy’s Joke Shop & Wacky Wig Emporium.

Nick does at least agree that a visit to a slightly less upmarket retailer might be advisable: “The last time I was in this world famous shop, who came in? None other than the King of Tonga. And I can tell you, the King of Tonga does not go looking for bargains.”

Now, I wouldn’t know the King of Tonga from the King of Togo, but I am quite happy to believe that the urbane and mysterious Mr Hewer is personally acquainted with all the royal families of the world and regularly takes tea (and buys hats) with them. It’s really quite strange that he ended up working for Alan Sugar.

Nick is impressed by Venture team leader Susie whom he dubs, only slightly patronisingly, “quite a little force to be reckoned with”.

Of course, Susie also has Jim on her team. Jim’s deadly, isn’t he? His negotiation technique is quite brilliant – open, honest and utterly ruthless.

After grinding the butchers’ fillet steak down to a rock bottom price and shaking hands on the deal, he manages to get another tenner knocked off, yet leaves everyone smiling. “I’m an Irish bulldozer of charm,” he says, and he’s so charming and forceful it’s hard to argue.

At the end of a well-planned and efficiently executed project, Venture have secured nine out of the ten items on the list while Logic have only managed six. Yet there’s a moment in the boardroom where you half expect Karren Brady to smugly turn the tables on us again.

As it turns out, Susie’s decision to buy £400-worth of tea from an eccentric lady outside a pub doesn’t quite sabotage all her good work and, penalties applied, Venture cruise to a win by almost £8, which seems to please Lord Sugar no end.

I assume at the time that it’s because it will give him the opportunity to fire Vincent, but instead he fingers team leader Gavin. In hindsight, it’s probably the right decision. Gavin’s desperate lack of ideas was summed up by his attempt to buy a top hat from Top Hat Dry Cleaners, which is the equivalent of going to the Apple Store in search of a fruit basket.

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More to the point, it gives Vincent another chance to really cement his reputation as an odious little twerp, which will make his firing next week all the more enjoyable. That’s the kind of strategic thinking that got Lord Sugar where he is today – you need balls to smell an opportunity like that.