The Apprentice is back in business

Alan Sugar and the 16 candidates for series nine Alan Sugar and the 16 candidates who will vie for a slice of his fortune

'I take inspiration from Napoleon.' 'I'm half machine.' 'I'm business perfection personified.' 'My effortless superiority will take me all the way.' 'I'm from Wales.'

The Apprentice is back for its ninth season and it's the usual bluster from the 16 candidates vying for £250,000 of Alan Sugar's fortune to fund their business plans.

Not that the tycoon is likely to be impressed. 'I've got a pile of CVs here,' he snarls at the start of episode one. 'It's full of the usual BS… All those usual clichés. I'm sick and tired of all that rubbish…'

Start Quote

I've got a pile of CVs here. It's full of the usual BS”

End Quote Alan Sugar

Apart from the old 'actions speak louder than words' platitude, which he goes on to say will be at the heart of the judgements he makes over the 12 weeks.

Cat litter

The opener - which airs on Tuesday on BBC One - sees Sugar summon the candidates to a midnight meeting in the boardroom to hear their first assignment. They are sent to Tilbury Docks in Essex to receive a container of products - anything from cat litter to leather jackets - which they must offload to traders for a bigger return than the other team.

It's edited for laughs - and gets a load of them in Tuesday's press preview - as the 16 unknowns jostle for rank and strain for approval.

Karren Brady, Alan Sugar, Nick Hewer Sugar is flanked by Karren Brady and Nick Hewer as he seeks out his next investment opportunity

But Sugar insists the contestants - who include a doctor, Mexican food entrepreneur, make-up brand owner and eternal student - are not the beautiful buffoons they may at first appear.

The process for selecting candidates from the thousands who apply is the same as it's always been, he explains. 'We know who to look for,' he says, as the producers strive for 'a balance of credibility as well as entertainment'.

'Punishing selection'

All will be put through a 'punishing selection process' on screen, to test their business acumen, drive and leadership ('we're going to run like hell to sell those ukuleles'), with the one who makes it out of the serious end of the series winning Sugar's backing.

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The BBC will make a decision [on the future of The Apprentice]... simply by the reaction in the marketplace”

End Quote Alan Sugar

The previous two winners have turned a profit, reveals the magnate, who believes that at a time of economic trepidation, the show demonstrates that a successful business can be built on modest investment.

'We show we can start a business with a quarter of a million pounds,' he explains. 'It's a lot of money to someone who has a seed of an idea.'

But, more importantly, he adds, the series has taught 'young people to open their eyes to enterprise, to open their eyes to business in a fantastic manner', with some of the tasks demonstrating that 'you can start something from nothing'.

Supply and demand

Asked if the series can run and run - especially in light of the fact that Young Apprentice was axed after three series - Sugar was content to defer to business principles.

'The BBC will make a decision… simply by the reaction in the marketplace,' he says of the series which drew an audience just shy of seven million for last year's final.

'The Apprentice has got longevity,' he believes. 'So long as we can continue to make it interesting… If it's interesting tv, I'm sure the BBC will continue to commission it.'

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