For 10 years, The Apprentice has kept us enthralled with groups of ambitious, memorable and at times bumbling candidates and Lord Alan Sugar’s witty one-liners. Ahead of the 11th series, in which Jewish businessman Claude Littner will take over Nick Hewer as Sugar’s right-hand man, the multi-millionaire has published his latest book,
Unscripted: My Ten Years In Telly in which he reveals all about the award-winning BBC series. Sugar recalls some of the best moments from inside the boardroom with the egos and backbiting – as well as outside when the cameras stopped rolling.
In this extract from Unscripted, he takes a wry look at that infamous task set for the candidates to find a kosher chicken in Marrakesh – starring “nice Jewish boy” Michael Sophocles…
Now as any fan of The Apprentice will know, from time to time the teams fall down on this task by not correctly interpreting the actual product I want, so apart from getting it at the wrong price, they sometimes get the wrong product. In that instance the product is disallowed and a fine is imposed on the team, which can cause them to lose the task. Even though this particular task was performed years ago, when you ask members of the public to name their favourite Apprentice moments, Marrakesh will often be on the list.
One of the items I asked them to find was a kosher chicken. In fact, Mark Saben [series editor], who knew I was Jewish, thought this up. He thought it would be rather funny to send them to look for a kosher butcher in an Arab country, and it did turn out to be hilarious. Lee McQueen, the guy who ended up winning the series, did manage to find one. Obviously we couldn’t set an impossible task – in fact, Mark Saben had previously gone out to research Marrakesh and had made sure that a kosher butcher did exist there. However, the other team made a real pig’s ear of getting this kosher chicken.
First of all, they had no clue what they were looking for and they ended up asking a stallholder selling halal chickens if he had any idea where they could find a kosher chicken. With the cameras around, the stallholder, a mischievous fellow, told them, ‘Yes, no problem, my friend, I can give you a kosher chicken.’
One of the candidates, Jenny Celerier, said, ‘I understand that a kosher chicken has to be killed in a certain way and has to be blessed?’ ‘Yes,’ said the fellow on the stall. ‘I’ll get somebody from the mosque to bless the chicken for you.’ What a total mess.
When they got back into the boardroom, I watched Jenny trying to distance herself from this fiasco, which made me absolutely livid. She was trying to push the whole thing on to Michael Sophocles because he was Jewish. I said to Jenny, ‘Are you kidding me? Have you never heard the word “kosher” in all your working life? Surely you must have heard that word?’
‘No, Sir Alan, I really do not understand what it means.’
I was stunned.
I turned to Michael. ‘Now, Michael, in your application for this process, you said you were a nice Jewish boy, is that right?’
‘Er, well, erm . . .’
‘Come on, Michael, either you are or you aren’t a nice Jewish boy.’
‘Er, well, er . . . well, yeah, okay, I am a nice Jewish boy.’
‘Because if you’re not sure, we can pull your trousers down and have a look!’
I continued, ‘Michael, are you telling me you do not know what a kosher chicken is? You’ve gone to a halal butcher, a Muslim, and asked him to sell you a kosher chicken and say a prayer over it – are you having a laugh? I don’t know why you didn’t go the whole hog and find a Roman Catholic priest to take the butcher to confession!’
I think the reason Michael hesitated about his religion was that his mother is Jewish and his father is not. In fact, as his mother is Jewish, in the eyes of Jewish law that actually makes him Jewish; but more to the point, he stuck it in his CV.
I assume this was to impress me, whereas of course it makes no difference to me what race or religion a candidate is. Having said all that, Michael did seem a bit mixed up because sometimes, before going into the boardroom to be grilled by me, he was filmed crossing himself!
I recall Nick trying to support Michael in the boardroom by saying, ‘He can’t be a complete fool, Alan; he’s a pretty educated bloke. He read classics at Edinburgh.’ Before I could respond, Margaret said, ‘Well, clearly Edinburgh isn’t what it was.’”
• Unscripted: My Ten Years In Telly is published by Macmillan, RRP £20 and is available now