Whether you see it as a slickly-produced slice of entertainment gold or a well-worn formula that’s getting stale, one of the most widely accepted ideas about The Apprentice is that every year it’s the same. But actually, that’s not quite true. Cast your eyes back to series one – originally broadcast in 2005 on BBC2 – and it’s a very different show.
Of course, Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford flanked Lord Sugar instead of Claude and Karren, and the candidates were chasing a job rather than a £250,000 investment, but there are also plenty of small but important differences that you may have forgotten about…
1. It’s Sir Alan, not Lord Sugar
Series one Alan Sugar still rules the boardroom. Series one Alan Sugar still maintains minimum eye contact with all candidates. But series one Alan Sugar is only Sir Alan, not Lord Sugar.
Before series six aired in 2010, Alan Michael Sugar was merely a knight of the realm (a title he’d held since 2000). However, after he was appointed to the House of Lords as Baron Sugar of Clapton in 2009, contestants had to refer to him by his new not-at-all-sinister-sounding title.
Interestingly, Sugar sidekick Karren Brady was made a Conservative life peer in 2014, but doesn’t make the contestants call her ‘Baroness Brady’ – or even ‘Lady Brady’ – even though they sound ten times better than ‘Lord Sugar’.
Claude Littner isn’t a lord, but candidates would definitely be too scared not to call him Lord Littner if he asked.
2. Sir Alan is on first-name terms with the receptionist
Although you can catch a tiny glimpse of the receptionist in today’s Apprentice, she’s just a nameless back-of-a-head in the firing machine. Rewind to series one and she has a face and a name: Frances.
However, in series two there’s a completely different receptionist, mysteriously also called Frances. And that receptionist is replaced again for series three, but is still referred to as Frances by Sugar. In fact, all the receptionists were actresses, not one of whom was called Frances.
But why were they all given that name? Simple: Sugar used to have a PA called Frances. It’s basically like how all-new Bond actors are always 007, only The Apprentice job comes with less rooftop shootouts and more Microsoft Excel formatting.
3. The losers’ café was a different café
Acton’s Bridge Café: setting of some of the best post-task-balls-up bitching in recent series. However, in the first ever episode of The Apprentice there’s no regular café of shame, nowhere for the contestants to collectively hang their heads.
In fact, there’s hardly any dissection of the tasks at all in the entire first series. On the rare occasion we were treated to some pre-firing chat away from Sugar (Sir Alan, not the condiment), it was in Kensington’s Addis Café, a greasy spoon that closed in 2009.
And weirder still, all the candidates are nice to one another. For instance, in the second episode, losing project manager Lindsay says to the group “I think we’ve all done a really credible job. Whatever happens, let’s remember that. I’m really pleased that we stuck together as a team.”
Nobody plays the blame game. Nobody tries to speak over her. They just sit there and enjoy a cappuccino.
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4. The Boardroom was a lot dimmer
Load up a clip of series one in full-swing boardroom action and it’s not the different candidates you’ll notice first, but the room itself. It’s green. Sure, a faded gradient of green, but it certainly has a Dr Stangelove post-apocalyptic bunker feel about it.
And it’s a set contestants were stuck with until series four, when the studio (yup, that was never Lord Sugar’s actual boardroom) was changed into the blue-lit one we’re used to today (also not Sugar’s actual boardroom).
5. A lot of the candidates’ talking heads were filmed after the task
A very jarring difference this: the talking head shots – the ones where an individual candidate says to camera something like “Zee doesn’t really know Dubai”/ “Phil’s not shut up about Pants Man all day”/ “Seriously, he wants our mascot to wear tighty-wighties” – are filmed after the task.
For instance, you’ll be watching a candidate haggling over flowers in a warehouse and — CUT TO: the same candidate in a different outfit talking about how the haggle went in a swanky restaurant.
It’s an absolute pace-wrecker.
6. The interview stage was much less glamorous
Last year’s interview stage – the bit towards the end where candidates have to withstand a massive kick in the CV – was held in glass-panelled monolith the Leadenhall Building, a location infinitely more glamorous than series one’s setting: a school headmaster’s office.
Okay, it’s not actually done in a school. But several of the interviews are filmed in a tiny office filled with overflowing folders and filing cabinets. The candidates are even asked to wait outside on a chair/naughty step before they can go in.
But there is one main similarity with the current series. Veteran interviewer and Sir Alan’s current aide Claude Littner makes for a familiar face, albeit one with a completely different hairline – ie, he actually has one.
7. There is a real lack of one-liners in the boardroom
The boardroom just isn’t as good in series one. Sure, Sir Alan seems to be genuinely focused on the business task, but there are no zingers. No quotes of the week.
Instead of delivering such lines as “If you nod your head any longer I’m going to put you on the back seat of my bloody car”, Sugar systematically lays into each candidate, trying to get to the bottom of the task.
It might have helped him find the best candidate, but an entertaining watch it ain’t.