He went into this current series best known for his attack-dog interviewing style. In previous years, we’ve seen Claude Littner savage the resumés and business plans of hapless and boastful candidates. One contestant was so shell-shocked by the mauling he received from Littner that he famously headed for a window instead of the door in his rush to get away. It was a high-rise office block.
But, with most of the candidates gone, Littner, 66, admits he’s had to muzzle himself as he made the transition from the show’s snarling interviewer-from-hell to one of Lord Sugar’s regular sidekicks, alongside Karren Brady. He finds it hard not to butt in when he sees the cock-ups unfolding in front of his eyes, even harder “not to show any kind of emotion”. He says: “It is like when you see a young child crossing the road – you just don’t let them cross. But in this case you have just got to let them get on with it.”
Despite giving the impression of someone whose pint you wouldn’t want to spill, he speaks gently about the rejected candidates, such as polished performer April Jackson and children’s tutor Sam Curry, saying it was a shame they went when they did.
But while Littner seems to have tempered his aggression, the same cannot be said of the candidates. There was an unpleasant altercation between builder Brett Butler-Smythe and account manager Scott Saunders in the discount store task, and there was also an alleged off-screen incident between the perpetually feuding Selina Waterman-Smith and Charleine Wain. So is the competition getting a bit out of hand?
“It’s the rough and tumble that you get,” says Littner. “You have different characters and sometimes they get along and sometimes they don’t – there’s a bit of friction and some people take it to heart more than others.”
Some have also claimed that Waterman-Smith is unhappy about the way she’s been edited on the show. Lord Sugar’s henchman says that while she has “ability”, she has a habit of seeing “adversaries and demons where perhaps they don’t exist”.
Littner insists the show offers a treasure trove of business advice to wannabe entrepreneurs, despite some, including a couple of this year’s candidates, describing The Apprentice as a parody of real business.
“Look, I think on the one hand it’s great entertainment, but if you listen to Alan every single week in the boardroom, there is a fount of knowledge that delivers a business message. And I sincerely hope that my small contribution enhances that business aspect.”
Claude Littner’s verdict
Job: Hair and beauty salon owner
Strength: “I have a soft spot for Charleine. She impressed me right from episode one. She’s prepared to do anything to get that sale. She is relentless. In fact she’s relentless every time there’s a sales opportunity for her. She goes the extra mile. She is competitive and as a sales person is brilliant.”
Weakness: “She has a very annoying voice and I do think she has a blind spot when it comes to delegation.”
Verdict: “She’s bright. She’s well turned out every single time she has to do a task she does her utmost. I think she’s a credible candidate.”
Job: Programme manager
Strength: “He’s the kind of guy who could get on with everybody. I’d be very surprised if anybody had a bad word to say about him. A genuinely nice guy, very polite, respectful and honest.”
Weakness: “He comes from a very large corporate-type background where you get penalised for making too many decisions and showing yourself to be too decisive. He hasn’t shown enough decisiveness and that’s a very important factor and quality in business.”
Verdict: “He’s a steady Eddie, a very nice guy to have on your team.”
Job: Plumbing business owner
Strength: “I took notice of him right from that first boardroom. He’s shown character and strength. You wouldn’t want to push him too hard. I’d be a little wary of him. He can sell really well, is a serious candidate and is probably going to make good progress in the final stages of this process.”
Weakness: “He doesn’t look like a serious businessman to me in the way that he speaks, in the way he dresses and looks. But there are so many people in life that don’t look or sound the part, but by golly they know about business.”
Verdict: “Joseph is an entrepreneur. He has demonstrated a strong ability to lead, a strong sense of selling and a strong sense of character. He’s a good prospect.”
Job: Social media entrepreneur
Strength: “Vana is highly educated and, as she has an American background, I think she talks a great talk. Here’s a really clever woman who perhaps could be moulded and work well with Lord Sugar. She’s redeemed herself the more the process has gone on. I’ve warmed to her.”
Weakness: “She has such a vibrant and infectious personality. I just don’t know if she’s a sticker.”
Verdict: “She’s incredibly intelligent, very likeable, presentable and I think if you gave her a business to run, she could make a go of it. My fear is: will she stick with it?”
Job: Marketing agency director
Strength: “Richard understands every single task. That’s not to say he’s performed brilliantly on every task but he understands what’s required. He has a lot of qualities Lord Sugar is looking for.”
Weakness: “He’s too smarmy, too much of a one-man band and hasn’t endeared himself to other people in the group. But they respect the fact he’s called it right pretty much every time.”
Verdict: “He’s a credible candidate. A good, solid guy. Personality issues might inhibit his progress but he’s understood the tasks best and is the one I’d choose for my team.”