16 of the best behind-the-scenes secrets from The Apprentice

From the truth about the Bridge Cafe, Lord Sugar's boardroom and the taxi walk of shame – here's how Lord Sugar's BBC One business contest is filmed

Lord Sugar with the 2019 candidates

From cringe-inducing shopping channel pitches to racist gin, accidental nudity and whatever on earth Pants Man was, The Apprentice has served up some of the best TV moments of the past 15 years.

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However, there’s plenty of Lord Sugar’s business competition we don’t see on screens. Although the show that airs on your box packs the task and boardroom battles into a tight one hour, there is a mine of behind-the-scenes gold hidden from viewers.

Like what? Well, here are just 16 of the best secret rules, regulations and oddities of filming The Apprentice…

1. A whole series of The Apprentice is filmed in only a few weeks

Although the search for Lord Sugar’s business partner is typically aired over 12 weeks, the tasks themselves are filmed in a fraction of that time, months in advance.

As Karren Brady revealed to RadioTimes.com at the show’s 2019 launch: “The whole of the series is crammed into five weeks. We’re back-to-back-to-back-to-back without a day off!”

These are hardly normal working days, either. “When you watch the Apprentice and it says it’s 4am, it really is 4am – the task has to be set really early in the morning to give them enough time,” explains Brady, adding that filming often finishes at 10pm each night only for the candidates to start again at 4am the next day.

“It really is a very hard-working show,” she says. “The only few days they get off is when the interviews come […] everyone is knackered by the end – including me and Claude!”

2. Candidates have even less time on tasks than we’re told

If you’re ever left wondering how candidates fail to drum up sales in their allotted time, it may not entirely be their fault. As you probably suspected, their task time is significantly cut down by filming red tape and restrictions.

“You don’t actually get as long as you think on task,” series 12 contestant Frances Bishop previously told RadioTimes.com.

“The public think you [have] eight hours selling – in reality, you don’t because you have a camera crew with you, you’ve got to clear places for filming.

“You think it’s just you with eight candidates, but you’ve actually got a sound guy, a camera crew, and then you’ve got poor Karren [Brady] following after you.”

And, just in case they aren’t robbed of enough time already, candidates are also required to break for lunch.

As former contestant Dillon St Paul told us: “In the real world if you had a really pressing deadline you might not do that, but you kind of HAVE to [on The Apprentice].”

3. Production do a test run of the tasks

Karren oversees the boys on task in series 15
Karren oversees the boys on task in South Africa during series 15

Turns out that it’s not only the candidates that try out their business acumen on The Apprentice. In order to make sure filming goes smoothly, members of the production crew attempt the tasks during the show’s planning process.

“They do a dry run to make sure tasks are possible – that you can go out and buy those items and how much you should be getting them for,” explains Brady. “There is an enormous amount of work that goes into each task.”

4. Every candidate’s taxi ‘walk of shame’ is filmed before the contest starts

Although the backseat ‘you haven’t seen the last of me!’ taxi interview with fired candidates is filmed after they’ve been kicked out the competition, the shot of them entering the car was recorded well in advance.

In fact, in what we imagine is a terrifying omen for all contestants, it’s one of the first sequences they shoot. Even the eventual winner has to film this loser’s walk of shame. (Sadly, the reverse isn’t true: only the winner gets to ride in Lord Sugar’s Rolls Royce).

Also, ever wondered why all the candidates wear coats and scarves? As Claude Littner confirmed on Twitter, it’s all for continuity.

5. The Apprentice boardroom is not Lord Sugar’s real boardroom

16539261-high_res-the-apprentice
Contrary to the many shots of the London skyline sprinkled throughout the episode, The Apprentice’s boardroom isn’t actually in Canary Wharf. It’s not even filmed in Lord Sugar’s actual HQ in Brentwood, Essex.

Instead, boardroom shoots take place in a studio by West Acton (just round the corner from the Bridge café).

There is good reason for this though. At the start of the series, there are up to 20 people crammed into that one room, a setup that requires a lot of cameras.

As the BBC says: “In order to set up and manoeuvre those cameras properly without interrupting proceedings, the series director needs to work from a gallery. Therefore it is not possible to film the boardroom scenes from Lord Sugar’s real boardroom.”

6. The Bridge café is a real place…

Is The Bridge Cafe a real place? Where is it? When's it open?

You can even go there yourself and enjoy a cuppa. It’s at Acton in West London – Westfields Road, London, W3 0AP, to be precise.

As mentioned above, it’s just around the corner from the boardroom studio.

7. …and so is La Cabana

Screenshot La cabana
BBC

Or, as we like to think of it, the reserve losers café. Like the Bridge, it is a real business which you can visit – no grilling by Lord Sugar necessary. You can find it at this address: 36 Cumberland Business Park, Cumberland Avenue, Acton, Park Royal, London, NW10 7RT.

Why do candidates occasionally find themselves here instead of the nearby Bridge? Although still unconfirmed by the BBC, candidates visiting La Cabana may have just endured a particular lengthy boardroom session – one that has gone on beyond 2.30pm (as of September 2019, closing time for the Bridge Café). La Cabana, meanwhile, opens up longer, until 4pm.

8. No, Alan Sugar doesn’t use a boardroom script

Alan Sugar

According to the BBC and aide Claude Littner, all of Lord Sugar’s quips are ad-libbed (although there’s no telling if he thinks of a few prepared jokes in his head before each task).

The BBC says: “He does not wear an earpiece, so the production team cannot interrupt him or feed things to him in the boardroom. Everything he says and all the decisions he makes are his own.”

Also, through speaking to Sugar on several occasions, RadioTimes.com can confirm Sugar’s pun-loving off-the-cuff humour is genuine. We’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s a good thing or not.

9. Candidates have to stay offline during tasks

Ever wondered why Apprentice contestants never think to Google any unknown items during the buying task? Or ditch the A-Z in favour of a GPS? Simple answer: they’re not allowed to. The phones they are given can’t access the internet.

10. There are strict rules to stop candidates promoting their businesses 

Since The Apprentice airs on BBC One, a publically-funded broadcaster, the show can’t promote any real businesses. And this rule can put candidates in a real pickle – particularly in the final. Although they may want Lord Sugar to invest in a business they already own, a finalist can’t pitch using the same branding as their current company.

For instance, instead of presenting her real nut milk business MYLKPLUS to Sugar in the 2018 final, we saw contestant Camilla Ainsworth pitch MLK IT.

“It was really bizarre,” Camilla told RadioTimes.com. “I was like, ‘I feel a bit disconnected because even though it’s my business, it’s not my business,’ if that makes sense. It’s obviously different branding and we couldn’t have had any of the same names – nothing!”

Camilla also claimed that she wasn’t even allowed to use pink – the main colour of her MYLKPLUS brand – on her packaging for the task. “You’re presented with choices and you have to choose certain things,” she explained. “You don’t have free rein on the colours [in the final].”

At the time, a spokesperson for The Apprentice told RadioTimes.com: “During the final, the candidates are asked to present their business plan and come up with a hypothetical brand name to show their skills in branding.

“The intention is not necessarily to trade with this name. The final decision of the branding of the new business will be made by the candidate and Lord Sugar, and at this point all necessary trademark checks will be made.”

11. You don’t see most of the boardroom action on TV

Which isn’t surprising considering how much is filmed. According to Brady, while viewers only see about 25 minutes of Lord Sugar’s showdown with contestants, often filming goes on for four or five hours.

“You don’t see a lot of long-winded explanations for Alan’s benefit,” she explained. “He’s not there, but the viewers have seen what’s happened, how it all unravelled – from him setting the task right the way through to it finishing […] I don’t think viewers would want a running commentary of what they’ve just seen.”

Claude Littner also revealed on Twitter that the (normally horrifically awkward) pitches from candidates to potential clients often go on for 20 minutes – much longer than we see on screen.

12. Any profits made during the tasks go to charity

It’s easy to think that any sales made on The Apprentice involve a bit of TV trickery, that no actual money changes hands and those handshaking scenes are staged. But that’s not so.

As former contestants revealed to RadioTimes.com, they do really make real money when flogging food or services to the public.

Furthermore, as an Apprentice spokesperson told us: “Any profit made from the sale of products created in the programme is given to charity.”

Although The Apprentice didn’t respond to our question, we can deduce that large-scale orders (the ones seen when candidates pitch products to major retailers) aren’t real and merely representative of how that company act.

13. The candidates business plans are only seen at the interview stage

Let’s face it: at times it’s a bit ambiguous how much Lord Sugar knows about each contestant’s business plan before the interview week.

At the start of some weeks, he may force the project manager role on an unlucky candidate, revealing they want to start up a business in a similar area. This means that he must have read everyone’s business plan already, right?

However, when it comes to the interview weeks, Sugar can seem surprised by the content of some of these plans. Is he acting ignorant in these later boardroom scenes?

Here’s what is really going on: at the start of the process Sugar is allowed to look through each candidate’s CV, a document that contains a line or two about their business plan.

Mystery solved.

14. The interview episode is even more gruelling to film than you think

There might not be any desperate rushing around London, but the interviews – normally the penultimate episode of each series – is one of the toughest tasks for candidates.

The main reason: it takes about 12 hours to film. And the candidates sit in silence for the majority of that time.

“You see us [the candidates] talking between interviews, but we only literally do that talking for about two or three minutes before each task and then sit in silence for 20 minutes to half an hour,” finalist Courtney Wood previously told RadioTimes.com.

“I’d say mentally it’s kind of tough sitting in silence for such a long time, trying to psych yourself up.”

15. The Apprentice films alternate endings to avoid spoilers leaking

Perhaps one of the biggest secrets of The Apprentice is that all finalists record their own ‘You’re Hired’ segment. Although Lord Sugar makes his decision on the day of the final boardroom meeting, two endings are normally filmed to “ensure that the winner is not revealed in advance,” according to the BBC.

In fact, the result is so secret that not even the candidates are told who won until the day before the final is aired on TV. This means they don’t actually know who won the show when filming their ‘You’re Hired’ reaction.

16. Lord Sugar really does work closely with the show’s winners

At least, that’s according to previous champs Alana Spencer and Sarah Lynn.

“I get asked, ‘Have you finished with Lord Sugar now?’ a lot. But that’s a common misconception, that you win the prize and he’s not involved anymore,” Sarah Lynn told RadioTimes.com. “Every step of the way he’s there.”

Although having amicably parted ways with Lord Sugar, Alana also told us that she used to regularly meet Sugar after winning the show.

“Usually it’s around once a week, though,” she said. “He lets us crack on with the day-to-day stuff, but anything in terms of pricing or the greater overall business plan, he has a say.”

But no matter how close you get to him, it’s always still Lord Sugar and never just Alan.

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The Apprentice airs 9pm Wednesdays, BBC One