The Apprentice

Image:The apprentice logo.jpg



Voiceover: Mark Halliley


The Boss: Lord Alan Sugar

The Board:
Nick Hewer (2005-14)
Margaret Mountford (2005-9)
Karren Brady (2010-)
Claude Littner (2015-, not 2022, first episode of 2023)
Tim Campbell (2022-, not tenth episode of 2022 or first episode of 2023)
Mike Soutar (stand-in, 2022)

BBC Three/Two coverage (The Apprentice: You're Fired):
Adrian Chiles (2006-9)
Dara Ó Briain (2010-4)
Jack Dee (2015)
Romesh Ranganathan (Regular Panellist: 2015)
Rhod Gilbert (2016-8)
Tom Allen (2019-)


Talkback and Mark Burnett Productions for BBC Two, 16 February 2005 to 10 May 2006 (24 episodes in 2 series + 2 specials)

TalkbackThames and Mark Burnett Productions for BBC One, 28 March 2007 to 17 July 2011 (60 episodes in 5 series + 12 specials)

Boundless and Mark Burnett Productions for BBC One, 21 March 2012 to 17 July 2013 (24 episodes in 2 series + 4 specials)

Boundless and United Artists Media Group for BBC One, 13 October 2014 to 17 December 2017 (48 episodes in 4 series + 8 specials)

Boundless and MGM Television for BBC One, 3 October 2018 to 18 December 2019 (24 episodes in 2 series + 4 specials)

Naked and MGM Television for BBC One, 6 January 2022 to present

The Apprentice: You're Fired/Hired!:

Talkback and Mark Burnett Productions for BBC Three/Two, 4 May 2005 to 10 May 2006 (12 episodes in 1 series + 1 special)

TalkbackThames and Mark Burnett Productions for BBC Two/One, 28 March 2007 to 13 July 2011 (61 episodes in 5 series)

Boundless and Mark Burnett Productions for BBC Two/One, 21 March 2012 to 17 July 2013 (24 episodes in 2 series)

Boundless and United Artists Media Group for BBC Two/One, 14 October 2014 to 17 December 2017 (48 episodes in 4 series)

Boundless and MGM Television for BBC Two/One, 3 October 2018 to 18 December 2019 (24 episodes in 2 series)

Naked and MGM Television for BBC Two/One, 6 January 2022 to present

Comic/Sport Relief Does The Apprentice:

TalkbackThames and Mark Burnett Productions for BBC One, 15 March 2007 to 13 March 2009 (6 episodes in 3 series)

Boundless and MGM Television for BBC One, 7 to 8 March 2019 (2 episodes in 1 series)

Junior/Young Apprentice:

TalkbackThames and Mark Burnett Productions for BBC One, 12 May 2010 to 12 December 2011 (14 episodes in 2 series)

Boundless and Mark Burnett Productions for BBC One, to 1 November to 20 December 2012 (8 episodes in 1 series)


When Willy Wonka wanted an apprentice, he didn't advertise the post in the usual way. Nothing so conventional for the inventor of the everlasting gobstopper, oh no. Instead he picked five youngsters at random, drew them into his world and whittled them down by slowly eliminating those that were too greedy, too obnoxious, too incautious or just too damn fond of squirrels (huh?), leaving just the quietest, poorest and, if we're brutally honest, most boring one to become his new protege. It's a pretty dumb method of recruitment, but with a few minor tweaks - increase the intake from 5 to 14, up the age range a little, and replace the chocolate factory with a Sugar empire (ahem) - it turned out to make for 12 weeks of compulsive viewing.

Each week the would-be tycoons are split into two teams and given a task to carry out, after which someone on the less successful team gets booted out. Tasks include devising a children's toy, obtaining items on a shopping list for the lowest possible price, making food to sell at a farmer's market, and so on. All good, solid Game Show Tasks with a range of possible strategies, plus the advantage of a consistent (if ever-dwindling) set of contestants whom we "get to know" as the weeks pass. Think of it as a bit like Big Brother, but without all that tedious sitting around and loops of birdsong.

Image:Apprentice_sugar.jpgSir Alan M. Sugar

It was the contestants that really made this show work. A few archetypes were established very quickly: the motormouth, the plainly-out-of-his-depth, the cold-but-capable, the very quiet, and of course the blatantly unemployable. Why, it almost made you feel sorry for the man who had to employ one of them at the end. (Almost. Actually, he lost our sympathy when it turned out that he watches 4:3 broadcasts stretched to 16:9. Yeah, we understand that he doesn't usually have time to watch telly at all, but really: the guy's made millions out of consumer electronics and he can't even set up a TV properly? Shame on him.)

Anyway, to completely rip off an observation we once saw someone make on another site, the appeal of The Apprentice turned out to be not dissimilar to This Is Spinal Tap with real people. Yes, you'll CRINGE! as one of the contestants pushes ahead with a disastrous scheme against all advice. You'll CRINGE AGAIN! as they attempt to justify their actions to Alan Sugar. You'll SHAKE YOUR HEAD IN UTTER DISBELIEF as a certain person whom we shall not name for legal reasons repeatedly manages to avoid being kicked off the show. And you'll CRINGE YET AGAIN! because it's just that kind of show, really.

Margaret, Alan and Nick

Of course, at the end the quiet one won, and Willy Wonka's recruitment methods were vindicated. Though the producers strangely chose to break away from Mr Wonka's masterplan at that point and failed to set the second series in a great glass elevator, which seems a bit of a wasted opportunity if you ask us. In fact, the programme has stuck rigidly to its original formula even to the extent of casting interchangeable contestants in each series (it's like Cluedo, the faces change but the characters remain the same), which certainly saves us the bother of having to write anything new about it. Oh, except to note that the daft Amstrad emailer phone product that used to glory in its placement on Sralan's desk has, in series 4, at last vanished. Can the format possibly survive this most radical of changes? Watch this space...

Speaking of radical changes, at the end of the fifth series, it was revealed that Margaret Mountford would leave the programme to return to her studies in Ancient Egyptian manuscripts. In August 2009, it was announced that her replacement would be Karren Brady, chief executive of Birmingham City Football Club. Brady had previously appeared on The Apprentice both as an interviewer to the candidates, and as a winning team leader in a Comic Relief celebrity special.

Lord Sugar with Nick and new recruit Karren

A further change was made for the seventh series of the programme in 2011 when the prize of a £100,000 job in one of Lord Sugar's companies was replaced with a £250,000 investment from Lord Sugar in a new business. The type of business was chosen by the winner, with the winner and Lord Sugar each taking a 50% stake.

For the tenth series in 2014, twenty candidates contested the process, leading to double firings, and even a triple firing to get the numbers down. Following the conclusion of this series, it was announced that Nick Hewer would be leaving his role as one of Lord Sugar's aides. Famously tough interviewer Claude Littner was later announced as his replacement from the 11th series in 2015.

Junior/Young Apprentice

In May 2010, a special version of the show for 16 and 17-year olds was aired under the title of Junior Apprentice. This six-part series followed the format of the regular series quite closely, with the 10 candidates spliting into two teams to complete business-related tasks, before heading to the boardroom where one (or more) of them was fired. Unlike the regular series, no-one was hired at the end of the series, with the winner instead receiving a prize suited to their career prospects, up to the value of £25,000. The series returned in October 2011, under the title of Young Apprentice.

Jordan De Courcy expertly displays the classic Apprentice phone tilt
The girls attempt to force cheese onto the unsuspecting British public
The boys team, with eventual winner Arjun Rajyagor standing

Key moments

Team Alpha's football-style celebration in series 4, leading to a look of shock from Margaret and a rebuke from Sir Alan, as he was then.

Claude Littner leaving Jordan Poulton and Solomon Akhtar with fleas in their ears after interviewing them. Actually, just Claude Littner in general.


"You're fired." Alan Sugar has said he wanted a more earthy, post-watershed catchphrase, but the producers (probably with an eye to international sales) insisted on keeping the line from the original US version.

Each episode ends with some variation on: "One job, now only n candidates. Sir Alan's search for his apprentice continues." In the first week, it's "...has begun". In the final it's reversed to become "n candidates, one job. Sir Alan's search for his apprentice is over." And from 2010, it's now Lord Sugar. With the change from a job as the prize to a business investment, the above phrases now refer to Lord Sugar's search for a business partner, rather than an apprentice.


Based on the US show of the same title, devised by Mark Burnett.

Theme music

The opening theme music is Dance of the Knights from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet.

The tension music and closing theme are by Dru Masters. The music from the boardroom sequence and end credits can be heard on his website.

The earlier series made frequent use of a piano piece called "Black And White X 5" by Bill Conti, from the original score for the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, though it seems to have fallen out of favour now.

The more recent series make heavy use of various pieces by Paul Mottram, including "Fireflies", "Sturm und Drang" and the ubiquitous "Time Lapse". You can hear them at Audio Network.


The sequence where the contestants emerge from Sugar's office and jump into the London taxi is filmed for everybody on the same day, near the beginning of the recording. Therefore, there is always a discrepancy between this sequence and the post-firing vox pop in the back of the taxi. To cover up most of this continuity error, the contestants wear long overcoats.

In case you're wondering, when working on tasks the candidates aren't allowed to tell people they're in a competition, or mention The Apprentice or Alan Sugar. Though the presence of a camera crew (and often, Nick, Margaret or Karren) is going to be a bit of a clue, isn't it?

By 2008, the American original of The Apprentice was generally regarded as yesterday's show. With the British version still going strong, producers at financial channel CNBC decided to show our version, promoted with the line, "If you thought the Donald was tough, wait until you get a taste of Sugar". It lasted one programme before being taken off for coverage of the 2008 credit crunch; BBC America picked up the series. The show was also sold to Australia.

The largest winning margin, and most likely the largest profit in the show's history came in the ninth episode of the seventh series. In the task, the teams were required to create, brand and pitch a new biscuit to three supermarkets. Team Logic returned to the boardroom with no orders, whereas Team Venture bagged an order for 800,000 units at an RRP of £1.99 on an exclusive basis with Asda. The resulting £1.6m order easily gave them the record for the largest sales. While the profit margin was not stated, it is likely that this order would also have brought in the most profit in the show's history.

The largest winning margin, and the largest profit in the show's history for a task for which monetary values were applied, came in the eighth episode of the seventh series. In the task, the teams were required to sell two products of their choosing to the retail trade in Paris. Team Logic returned to the boardroom with orders totalling €11,705 (as of shortly after the first broadcast of the episode in question on 22 June 2011, around £10,454). However their opponents Team Venture, returned with orders totalling €228,699 (around £204,254), giving them a winning margin of €216,994 (around £193,808), prompting Lord Sugar to declare the losing team had been annihilated. [Much larger figures than these have been recorded in the celebrity specials, but as they are for charity and people are much more free-spending with their money, it isn't a fair comparison.]

Series five contestant Ben Clarke would later appear on an episode of Dating in the Dark.

Stella English, winner of the 2010 series, was involved in legal proceedings against Lord Sugar alleging constructive dismissal. English claimed that she had been forced to quit after discovering her contract was not going to be renewed. English's claim was thrown out in April 2013; the tribunal found that she had resigned rather than being fired, so there was by definition no dismissal, and her claim was therefore contrary to the relevant section of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

The 2022 series, delayed by a year and a half due to COVID-19, aired after Dragons' Den, moved from BBC2 due to a dearth of content, as half of… wait for it… "Business Thursdays"! Christ on a bike. Speaking of which, Claude Littner missed that series as he'd fallen off his, and managed one episode of the 2023 run, the episode set in Antigua, before disappearing again due to "medical issues". (Far from us to accuse him of only doing the episode where there was a nice foreign holiday in the offing…) Tim Campbell picked up the slack, except for 2022's tenth episode where a positive COVID test meant Mike Soutar had to cover for him.

Series seventeen seventh-placer Avi Sharma (try saying that drunk!) appeared on Countdown less than six months after being fired. Or less than six months after his firing was aired, anyway. He was even less successful on Countdown, where he scored nothing at all.

Paul Kemsley, one of the interviewers on the first four series, left after his company went bust; he later oozed on to Selling Super Houses.


2005 Tim Campbell
2006 Michelle Dewberry
2007 Simon Ambrose
2008 Lee McQueen
2009 Yasmina Siadatan
2010 Stella English
2011 Tom Pellereau
2012 Ricky Martin
2013 Leah Totton
2014 Mark Wright
2015 Joseph Valente
2016 Alana Spencer
2017 Sarah Lynn and James White (joint winners)
2018 Sian Gabbidon
2019 Carina Lepore
2022 Harpreet Kaur
2023 Marnie Swindells
2024 Rachel Woolford

Junior/Young Apprentice

2010 Arjun Rajyagor
2011 Zara Brownless
2012 Ashleigh Porter-Exley


A few of the candidates that have appeared on The Apprentice over the years have gone on to have some success in the media. Series 1 candidate Saira Khan has hosted and participated in several game shows, while fellow series 1 candidate James Max hosted shows on London radio stations LBC and BBC London. Series 2 candidate Ruth Badger went on to host her own business improvement series Badger or Bust on Sky1, while reality TV beckoned for series 3 candidate Raef Bjayou, who appeared on Celebrity Coach Trip. Series 4 candidate Katie Hopkins also dabbled in reality TV, by appearing on I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! in 2007. Luisa Zissman from series 9 would appear on Celebrity Big Brother in early 2014, before joining spin-off programme Bit on the Side as a regular panellist later the same year.

Comic Relief Does The Apprentice (2007)

  • Danny Baker
  • Karren Brady
  • Jo Brand
  • Alistair Campbell
  • Cheryl Cole
  • Rupert Everett
  • Ross Kemp
  • Maureen Lipman
  • Piers Morgan (fired)
  • Trinny Woodall

Sports Relief Does The Apprentice (2008)

Comic Relief Does The Apprentice (2009)


The Apprentice: best of Series 1-4 DVD

The Apprentice (updated edition 2006) - tie-in book by Alan Sugar (also the original 2005 edition)

Web links

BBC programme pages: The Apprentice, The Apprentice: You're Fired, Junior/Young Apprentice

Wikipedia entries: The Apprentice, The Apprentice: You're Fired, Junior/Young Apprentice

The show publicised the attag @bbcapprentice.


Image:Tim campbell pic.jpgSeries 1 winner Tim Campbell
Image:Michelle dewberry pic.jpgSeries 2 winner Michelle Dewberry
Sir Alan Sugar with the candidates for the fourth series of The Apprentice.

See also

Weaver's Week review


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