Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Apprentice Form

It is almost impossible to precede this amazingly insightful and hilarious form card for this year’s series of the Apprentice, but for the last few series David has produced this analysis with ever increasing accuracy and this year it is time to publish and share. No apologies for the many ex-Amstrad insider jokes but you’ll probably get them anyway (apart from Tony Massey – read ‘Duncan Goodhew’)! Thanks and credit to David Hennell for this work of .....

Blimey... give a guy a break! I Sky Plussed it and only finished watching the first episode 5 minutes ago.

Anyhow by popular demand, here's Hennell's tips to the runners and riders for The Apprentice 2010. Accept no substitutes... here's the real thing, the original and still the best (sorry, Mike!)

I'm going to do this in two parts, because I'm knackered. Let's face it guys, none of us are as young as we were back in Brentwood days (even if Thomas Power spends hours photoshopping the thousands of pictures of himself that then appear on every social networking site in an attempt to look as if he is... honestly, that man's *such* a cyber tart!).

Okay the boys. Far FAR easier to sort this lot out, compared to the girls. What is it, gentlemen, that makes us so transparent? Some perma-squirt of machismo? Speaking of which...

Dan "Lunch is for wimps" Harris (RIP). You'd think he knew plenty about sausages, given his fleshy-jowled look of a ginger Yorkshire butcher. But no. Management style straight out of the early 80s, so much so that he made Gary Meyer (Amstrad Australia's erstwhile MD for those of you who have forgotten) look like Gandhi. You just *know* his favourite film of all time is Wall Street.. he had to go, if nothing else because of his extraordinary "go on, sniff my gonads... you know you want to" way of sitting in the boardroom.

Stuart "The Brand" Baggs. More Jo Brand than Nike, methinks, except far less intentionally funny. Overweeningly arrogant, blissfully un-self-aware. Offered himself to Alan on a sale or return money back deal in the boardroom showdown - if only his mother had had the benefit of an identical offer at his birth. Mind you, he ran rings round Dan the ginger butcher and did him up like a kipper in the boardroom, which if nothing else needs applauding as a mercy killing. He'll be great TV but there's no way in Hell Alan could bear him, not even on consignment.

Alex "New Labour" Epstein. Why New Labour, I hear you ask, when he's obviously such a good little corporate capitalist? Well for one, he worryingly resembles Gordon Brown after a fake-bake spray tan. And two, he's got that badly trained public speaking move that all New Labour wannabes have done since Blair to attempt to show sincerity. You know the thing, that masturbatory emphatic hand gesture a la Gareth Hunt Maxwell House adverts c. 1980, whenever you're trying to make someone believe whatever line of crap you're peddling. Apart from that, not one to get his hands dirty and won't last.

Raleigh "Training wheels needed on my tricycle" Addington. Bless him! That lip-quivering shocked speech at Dan, ending with a genuinely morally outraged finger-wagging cry of "Shameful!". I honestly thought he might burst into tears. Just too soft, too sheltered, too green and is just bound to get completely stabbed in the back by someone he thinks loves him as much as he worshipped his house prefect at Eton when as a junior fag, he was required to be on 24 hour call to butter the latter's crumpets.

Shibby "Trust me, I'm a doctor" Robati. I was briefly convinced he'd been expelled from a recent international cricket team for match fixing, but he's no fool, this one. He just looks like it's all beneath him and he doesn't seem to be that bothered. No doubt he'll do well as a surgeon with that languid doe-eyed arrogance he affects... or rather, doesn't. It's all natural, I fear. Out mid-season.

Christopher "Star Trek" Farrell (yes Mike, I agree with the otherworldly look our commando's got). Kept a low profile and stayed well-hidden - maybe he was a sniper? Came a little bit back to life in the boardroom where it looked like he couldn't believe his ears at the nonsense Dan was spouting. He's in good company... I couldn't believe his ears either. Maybe a dark horse, but I think too nondescript. Out mid-season again.

Chris "Investment banker is not always rhyming slang" Bates. The secret lovechild of Jamie Oliver and Ronan Keating and one of three, yes count 'em three, investment bankers in this year's show. It's mildly encouraging to see that some of the city bozos have got their come-uppance - why else would they sign up to the show? - as we enter double dip recession. He's a bit posh, but I think he has a little edge to him. My 2nd favourite of the boys (not that this is difficult among this bunch).

And finally Jamie "Mi casa es su casa" Lester. Okay so he looks like a Milwall soccer thug in a suit, but that's probably no bad thing as far as Alan is concerned. However, he was pretty much reasoned and professional - didn't you just love the way he took Stuart The Brand to task for acting like a hyperactive toddler after way WAY too much Sunny Delite? By far and away the best of the guys. Final three for absolutely definitely cast-iron sure.

I'll get round to the ladies tomorrow. Stay tuned, pop pickers.
Part 2  
Okay, time for the fairer sex to be scrutinized. This is going to be much more tricky, because with just a couple of notable exceptions, the ladies seemed demure, retiring and nigh on invisible - it's time for gut-feel. Never judge a book by its cover was hardly a Brentwood catchphrase.

Speaking of which, did anyone else hear Alan's radio interview last week, set up for him to plug the new series *and* his new book, called "What you see is what you get". Good title, though hardly one to be applied to your average Amstrad product in hindsight... "A mug's eyeful" might have been better. Anyhow, the shock revelation was that Alan confirmed that he'd been asked to appear on Strictly Come Dancing - his comment unsurprisingly being "What a bloody load of old nonsense." What a complete tragedy - we'd all have given several years of our lives just to see Alan doing the Chigwell cha cha in sequinned shirt slashed to the waist.

Now Nick "The Silver Fox" Hewer on Strictly... that's a marriage made in heaven. I'm sure Nick could rapidly polish up his undoubtedly substantial lounge lizard skills and trip the light fantastic with the best of them - plus in his elegantly stealthy way, the man's a serious player... I know, I've seen him in action. Smoother than a baby's bottom coated in Teflon. I can definitely see him inveigling his way into the arms and charms of some lithe young professional dancer half his age... the red tops would have a field day. We should all lobby the BBC for next year. Seriously. Come on Thomas, you're ideally placed to sort out an online campaign with your legion of lonely businesswomen followers on TwitterCademyFaceSpace... we want to see the "Hewer for Strictly" petition.

Anyhow, enough of the musing... back to the girls and the easy ones first.

Melissa "Peroxide Nightmare" Cohen. Oh dear. The obvious pantomime villain of the piece so she'll be kept in for a good long while as the other one (together with Stuart the Brand) as the ones we love to hate. Opinionated, pushy, patronising and generally vile. She'll force her way into the camera foreground on every opportunity. With a surname like that, she may well be of the faith (or as Dave P would say, she's no schicksa, she's a Red Sea pedestrian) but that's not going to save her. The axe will fall in the second half.

Joy "Oh shit! Jo is back" Stefanicki. It's not just me, is it? She does look scarily like mad Jo Cameron from Series 2. Anyhow, you just *know* she's going to be insane. Not axe-wielding psycho insane like Melissa above, but far more new-age, fair trade, crystal-waving, back-to-back whale-song on the IPod, navel-gazing, ear candling, lentil cooking and above all barking mad. Not in a million years is she going to make the final three, so it'll be back to her vegan wigwam in whatever tree-hugging commune she lives in (yes yes, I know she's from Birmingham, but I bet she could find one).

Laura "Fragile - handle with care" Moore. An absolute dead ringer for an 80s actress called Shirley Cheriton (Angels & Eastenders - and no, don't ask me how I know.. just google images), except brunette. She's only 22, and I'm getting this feeling of petulance and emotional fragility from her. A trained violinist apparently, I think she's going to be equally highly strung. Expect something to snap before long.

Paloma "Not Picasso but" Vivanco. Pretty much invisible in the first episode but just on a hunch, I'm expecting this one to have a short fuse and foresee tantrums ahead. I think she'll throw her toys out of the pram once too often and alienate others, so based on the most flimsy of evidence; I'm going to say not one to go too far.

Sandeesh "Thundercats" Samra. How can anyone possibly have that amount of hair? She's the antithesis of Tony Massey. Another near invisible girl in episode one, but reading her brief biography on The Apprentice website, it states that she "believes that keeping the customer happy is the key to success". A business truism, maybe, but not one that's going to mesh well with Alan. Had it been "hustling the customer into thinking he's happy" or "doing the absolute bare minimum necessary to ensure the customer doesn't get atomically pissed off", she'd have been a much more natural fit. I see this one as being rather too nice and idealistic to last long.

Liz "Too pretty by far to be related to Mike" Locke. Sorry, Mike. Not even in my most twisted fantasies can I picture this year's eye-candy in Union Jack socks on the back of a Kawasaki, so there's clearly no shared DNA there. Mind you, did you see shameless Uncle Nick schmoozing his way into her and Stella's (see below) good books by saying he was impressed with their figures? Told you, he's a sly one and I bet he'd like to share some DNA with this Louise Redknapp lookalike. At 24, she's the right age to be an apprentice, providing her corporate investment banking background isn't too "city boy" big business for Alan. I think she's going to do well, providing she's prepared to get her hands dirty. Final three material.

Stella "Investment banker number three" English. Another good candidate, I think. Hard to choose between her and Liz above. Liz has got youth on her side, but Alan's going to like Stella's whole "left school without a single GCSE" claim to fame - he always does appreciate that sort of schtick. OK it's not quite boiling beetroot in Brick Lane from the age of 8, but it's the next best thing. More liable to roll up her sleeves and dive in, so another contender for sure, but an apprentice at 30? I'm unsure.

Joanna "In with a chance" Riley. Offered herself up for team leader in the face of abject sloppy shoulders from the rest of the girls, so hats off to her for that. Actually did a pretty fair job as well - not the strongest personality, maybe but definitely pleasant and seems to have common sense. If her apparent general air of niceness doesn't prove to be her Achilles heel, this one's one to watch - I can see her making the final three.

So, I'm down to a final five (not that it'll ever go this way - got to keep some hate figures in for ratings purposes). However, Hennell's 2010 Top Tips for the best of the bunch are:-

Jamie Lester - Evens favourite
Liz Locke - 6/4
Joanna Riley - 5/2
Stella English - 3/1
Chris Bates - 5/1
25/1 the rest of the field.

Get your 50p's in now, but at your own risk. Be warned, I'm on a roll, having called a Yasmeena/Kate final with a Yasmeena win last year.


Sunday, October 03, 2010

Personal Memories of Lord Sugar

After watching Lord Sugar take a trip down memory lane with Piers Morgan and following the launch of his autobiography ‘WYSIWYG’ a few days back I was reflecting on my own personal memories of Alan as my boss at Amstrad during the 80's and 90's.

These are 9 memories that - for better or worse - stand out for me from the 9 year's as a young salesman at Amstrad at the start of my 25 year career in sales and marketing.

1. The estate agent

Before the launch of the first home computer the CPC464 in 1984 Amstrad hired a small group of ‘boffins’ based at a small company in Brentwood. There was no room at the Tottenham office (and none us wanted to go there anyway) so for a few months we continued to work remotely. Then someone came up with the great idea of moving Amstrad to Brentwood and there was a large empty office block that seemed to fit the bill.

After we’d done some initial reconnaissance, Alan and the whole of board of directors decided to visit the site and I collected the keys from the estate agent and very keenly showed them around all 9 floors. This was the first time I had met Alan and at the end of the tour Alan said to Jim his finance director, “you can loose the estate agent now”. Jim quickly rescued me by explaining I was one of the new computer team.

2. The importance of communications

After my cover was blown I got tasked with preparing the new offices ahead of the move to Brentwood. A couple of weeks before the scheduled date Alan paid a visit to inspect the progress of the work. After seeing that the decoration work was all on track he said words to the effect “I don’t care about the decorations and desks, as long as the phones, fax and telex are all working fine then I can be sitting on a orange box and the rest of the world won’t know, but if they’re not working don’t even bother to show your face!”

3. The printer lead

In early 1985 we launched our first printer the DMP-1, it was eagerly awaited and its first showing was at the CES show in the US. I was asked to organise a sample for Alan to take on his flight. As he was about to leave the office for the airport with the printer he turned to me and asked if I had remembered to pack the printer lead. Now the PL-1 was a non-standard lead that was supplied as an additional item and the nearest one was at the warehouse 30 miles away - I had completely forgotten about it. The reaction was inevitably to challenge me to get the lead to the stand at the exhibition before him or stick it where the sun don’t shine. Thank's to some fast work by Steve and Russell the lead made into Alan's luggage at Heathrow.

4. Pearls of wisdom

When selling a fantastically popular product it’s all too easy to get big headed and arrogant, and there wasn’t any room for that at Amstrad – save for Alan himself. So every now and then he’d feel it necessary to take people down a peg or two! One of his more illuminating analogies was the ‘Ferris wheel’ – when you are at the top don’t crap on those at the bottom as it won’t be too long before the situation is reversed.

5. The snow leopard

During the time when the PC business was really flying high – probably 1988, we were exhibiting at the Which Computer Show in Birmingham. Now we had done several exhibitions in previous years and the stands had all been swamped and totally manic. For this event we had really gone to town with a huge ‘double decker’ stand, 2 staircases, cocktail bar with water feature to host our guests and dozens of specially selected girls to look after everyone’s needs. When Alan arrived, just before the opening, I remember him strolling around and looking quizzically then asking “where’s the bloody snow leopard?”

6. The fable

I have no reason to believe if this is based on fact or not, however before we were all subjected to jack hammers creating a new lift shaft (a private one to the new 10th floor where Alan built his executive suite) there were just 2 lifts serving the office. So in the morning if you timed your arrival badly you could end up in a lift with Alan who was on his way to the 9th floor where sales was based. He apparently never said a word in the lift and the rumour was – if he spoke to you then your P45 was already waiting for you on your desk.

7. The recall trial

In the dark days of the PC business when the 2000 series was going horribly wrong I was loitering around Malcolm’s (Sales and Marketing Director) office with most of the other senior sales and marketing managers discussing what we should do about the situation. I was advocating a recall and exchange of the units out in the market, when suddenly I became aware that Alan was standing behind me. Turning around he began to test my resolve on the idea and as the pressure escalated I was acutely aware that my colleagues had all shrunk into the background and I was beginning to well up with emotion as I stuck to my guns. After what seemed like an eternity (probably not more than 2 or 3 minutes), Alan turns around and walks off telling me to get on with it and to make sure it solves the problem.

8. The Christmas party

This was the least extravagant of the parties I remember, down at the Post House Hotel on junction 28 of the M25. Times were tough in 1990 and my wife and I found we had the pleasure of sitting at Alan’s table for dinner. My wife was expecting our second baby within a few days and Alan struck up a conversation asking her if we had considered calling the baby Alan! He was sure it was going to be a boy and when my wife said we hadn’t decided on a name he suggested we think of something related to the number five in recognition of the new 5 series PC’s that we were pinning our hopes on! Given the amount of red wine flowing I guess this is the incident Alan would be least likely to remember. The first 2 letters of my son's name are Al, but he is definitely not Alan.

9. Déjà vous at the lawyers

Several years after I left Amstrad I helped out as a witness in the court cases against Seagate and Western Digital. They had supplied the hard disks for the disastrous 2000 series. The whole High Court and US legal system was an extremely interesting experience but the one moment that I remember which involved Alan was in the lawyer’s office in LA. There was a small group of us getting prepared in a large meeting room, I can recall Barry was there but can’t picture who else was there as the lighting in the room was very dim. Then Alan arrived and paced around the room with the immortal words ‘well isn’t this just like old times’.

Since those times the hard core of the team have stayed friends and regularly meet up to remind ourselves of the good old days - and of course to discuss Lord Alan's new celebrity career.