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The Apprentice: How does the show stay fresh after 15 years?

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Karren Brady, Lord Sugar and Claude Littner

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Lord Sugar returns next week with his two sidekicks, Baroness Brady and Claude Littner

Desperate Housewives, Strictly Come Dancing, Lost, Entourage, House and Peppa Pig might not look like they have much in common, but all were launched in the same year – 2004.

It was, safe to say, a significant year for television.

But in addition to the US dramas, TV talent shows and preschool pigs, 2004 also happened to be the year a business show called The Apprentice began on BBC Two.

“Some of this year’s [candidates] were five years old when we first started this programme,” points out Lord Sugar ahead of the show’s 15th series. “Youngsters I speak to every day of the week who stop me in the street love the programme and say they’re inspired by it.”

The Apprentice was an immediate success upon its launch and was soon promoted to BBC One. The format, which originated in the US, was exported around the world – and the American version itself even produced a future president.

But while Lord Sugar sees no need to hang up his tie any time soon, the 72-year-old acknowledges it can’t go on forever.

“I’ve got one more series [after this one] that I’m contracted for, which will be the 16th series,” he says. “I might do it to 20. Twenty sounds like a round figure.”

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Left-right: 2019 contestants Pamela Laird, Lewis Ellis, Jemelin Artigas, Souleyman Bah and Scarlett Allen-Horton

In 2010, the prize changed from a job in Lord Sugar’s company to a £250,000 investment in the winning candidate’s business idea. But beyond that, the format has broadly remained the same – 16 candidates, split equally in gender, competing in a series of challenges, with one being fired at the end of each weekly task.

“This raw and painful familiarity must be why The Apprentice continues to be so popular,” wrote Lucy Sweet in The Big Issue last year. “Despite never changing an iota of its format, it’s still rumbling on.”

Stuart Heritage of The Guardian, meanwhile, has written an article calling for the show to be cancelled every year for the last five series. “The Apprentice, despite being roughly as enjoyable as getting pelted with sun-hardened donkey dung, inexplicably remains a thing,” he said last year.

But the stars of the show argue that the format is kept fresh thanks to the new tasks which are added every year, often reflecting changes in technology. “They’re right up to-date, last year it was robotics,” says Lord Sugar.

“This year, they have to be music agents,” picks up Baroness Karren Brady, “and represent an emerging artist and sell his music. There’s an electric bike [task], there’s a toy… they design a rollercoaster.”

And coming up with the ideas for tasks is harder than it looks, argues Lord Sugar, because “one has to think of the logistics of a TV programme”.

“In the early days, I thought of one task that I put to the production team of becoming a city trader – buying and selling shares and all that type of stuff. But the truth of the matter is that would make a very boring film. And there are other tasks that would be similar. So I think what we’ve got at the moment are tasks that have a physical element element to them.

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Sian Gabbidon won the last series with her idea for a swimwear brand

“Having the candidates making stuff in the kitchen is always interesting. One of my favourite tasks is buying the eight items and negotiating. So I do believe the physical side of things is important.”

He adds: “The production company’s team spend months researching and dreaming up these ideas and not only that, but also having to get partners to co-operate. To allow us to come into their venues, to go on their trains, to play with their equipment.

“Don’t underestimate the amount of work that goes into that, the paperwork, it takes a lot of organising. The London borough of Islington, for example, doesn’t allow you to put a camera on their streets unless you ask permission, all that stuff has got to be cleared.”

  • Apprentice winners: Where are they now?
  • ‘Not one Apprentice candidate is actually stupid’

One constant of every series of The Apprentice is how self-assured some the contestants are. In fact, this year’s crop appear to have finally broken Claude Littner.

“Normally I’m completely dispassionate,” he deadpans. “I watch the candidates day in and day out, and I don’t really care. However, this year, I found them incredibly irritating. And as we go through, you’ll be irritated as well, I guarantee it.”

From the opening seconds of this series, you can see what he means. “Millions isn’t enough for me, I need billions for the lifestyle I want,” claims one candidate. “Cut me, and I’ll bleed ambition,” says another.

“We’ve got a pillow salesman, a librarian, a baker, a sports agent,” says Baroness Brady of this year’s crop of hopefuls. “There’s no mould of a business person now, it’s anybody with any kind of background or experience.”

Lord Sugar agrees: “They are a different group of people, and that’s what makes the programme each year, different characters from all walks of life.”

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Lord Sugar says inspiring young people is one of his main motivations

Perhaps the most significant change for the show over the last 15 years is the changing landscape of television itself.

In 2004, BBC iPlayer didn’t exist. The public largely watched TV programmes live, in their allotted timeslot. As a result, the viewing figures broadcasters received the next morning could make or break a show.

But, Lord Sugar says: “The figures that people quote of overnights now are all meaningless, because you have to add the iPlayer and the Sky Plus-type user that watches it afterwards, and when you start adding all those together, it comes to 10 million or something like that.”

(He’s being slightly generous – the finale of the last series attracted 7.74 million when all platforms are included, according to ratings body Barb. The original overnight figure was 5.86 million, which meant nearly two million used catch-up services to watch.)

“The problem with our programme is the spoiler,” Lord Sugar continues. “Because if you really want to follow it, you don’t want to know who got fired the next day [if you haven’t seen the episode]. So unlike something like Peaky Blinders for example, which you can pick up the day afterwards, you don’t really want to pick up The Apprentice the day afterwards unless you cut yourself off from the world.”

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From Brexit to Britten – John Humphrys gets weekly Classic FM show

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John Humphrys in the Today studio

John Humphrys will go from grilling politicians to toasting composers after landing a weekly Classic FM show.

The presenter will “share his own stories and reflections on his favourite composers and their music” in a Sunday afternoon slot from 5 January.

Humphrys was known for interrogating political figures on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme until his departure in September after 32 years on the show.

“It’s proof positive that there really is a life after politics,” he said.

“And a rather more inspiring one at that.”

The 76-year-old was given the Classic FM job after sitting in as a guest host on the station’s breakfast show for a week in October.

Classic FM senior managing editor Sam Jackson said there had been a “hugely positive reaction” to Humphrys’ stint.

The move comes despite the fact Humphrys told BBC News two weeks after leaving Today that he had no plans to go back to broadcasting.

“I don’t feel any need to get back in front of a microphone or indeed a camera,” he said. “Perhaps I will, but at the moment no I don’t.”

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Media captionJohn Humphrys: “I don’t feel any need to get back in front of a microphone or indeed a camera”

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Nicky Campbell pays tribute to ‘wonderful mum’

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Nicky Campbell and his mother Sheila

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Nicky Campbell, pictured with his mother Sheila: “She was my adoptive mum. She was my real mum”

BBC Radio 5 Live’s Nicky Campbell has written a heartfelt tribute to his “wonderful” mother Sheila, who has died at the age of 96.

Along with her husband, Frank Campbell, she adopted Nicky as a four-day-old baby in 1961.

Sheila Campbell, a World War Two radar operator who became a social worker, was part of Nicky’s 2007 episode of BBC One’s Who Do You Think You Are?

She also spoke about being a radar operator on BBC Radio 5 Live in June.

“The day she and Dad adopted me was the day I won the lottery,” he tweeted.

Campbell, who missed presenting Thursday’s edition of 5 Live Breakfast, added that Sheila “doted on her grandchildren and my girls completely adored her. Everyone did.”

His co-host Rachel Burden choked up as she prepared to read out the statement before handing over to her co-host Geoff Lloyd.

Burden then added: “I knew her in the course of my friendship with Nicky developing over the years. She was an incredible woman and I feel really, really privileged to have known her.

“Nicky will be back at work tomorrow because, as he says, his mum would have said, ‘Of course you should be working, it’s the general election results day.’

“So he will be here tomorrow. And we just all want to send all our thoughts on to Nicky and the girls and Tina and all his family today. You’re very, very much in our thoughts.”

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Media captionThis clip is originally from 5 Live Breakfast on Tuesday 5 June 2019.

Earlier this year, Sheila spoke to Campbell on 5 Live Breakfast to talk about her role in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force during World War Two. She was presented with a medal of service for her work in 2017.

Stationed at Beachy Head, she helped to guide RAF planes to their targets during the D-Day campaign.

She was proud to have played a part in the invasion, but said she would spend the 75th anniversary “thinking a lot about the lives that were lost on the beaches, and at that time”.

‘So proud’ of his family

Who Do You Think You Are? saw Campbell investigate the roots of his Scottish family, especially his adoptive father Frank, who died in 1996.

He discovered more about his father’s time serving with the Indian army during World War Two – fighting Japanese troops in what has come to be known as “the forgotten war” – and had some shocking revelations about his grandfather’s childhood.

Summing up the experience, he said: “I’m so proud of this extraordinary family I was adopted into. All the stories I’ve heard somehow all contributed to making my dad the most wonderful dad that I could have had.

“It couldn’t have been for me more fascinating, revealing and enlightening. A family of which I am so proud and a dad of which I’m so proud. I just wish he were here to share it.”

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BBC Sound of 2020: Who’s on the longlist?

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A selection of bedroom musicians, indie bands and retro-futuristic soul singers are being tipped for success on BBC Music’s Sound of 2020 list.

The longlist features 10 rising acts, from punk-pop firebrand Yungblud to soul-baring songwriter Celeste.

Other nominees include DIY musician Beabadoobee, who is signed to the same management company as The 1975; and Dublin rock band Inhaler, fronted by Bono’s son Elijah Hewson.

The winner will be revealed in January.

Now in its 18th year, the Sound of… list showcases the hottest new artists for the coming year. Past winners includes Adele, Sam Smith, Years & Years, 50 Cent, Sigrid and, earlier this year, Octavian.

It is voted for by 170 music critics, broadcasters and DJs, as well as former nominees such as Billie Eilish, Lewis Capaldi and Chvrches.

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Celeste has been hotly tipped following the success of her heart-rending single Strange

The 2020 selection sees a retreat from grime and UK rap, which had established a strong presence on the list over the last five years.

In their place are a clutch of female artists who represent the rise of British R&B – from the sweet-but-gritty sounds of Joy Crookes to the soulful poetry of Arlo Parks.

But the one to beat is Celeste, a “shy singer with a star’s voice”, who has already won the Brits’ Rising Star award and been named BBC Music Introducing’s artist of the year.

BBC Music Sound of 2020
Artist Who are they? Key track
Arlo Parks Soulful poet unpicking the anxieties of a generation Cola
Beabadoobee Dreamy, lo-fi bedroom pop If You Want To
Celeste Timeless soul to tug at your heartstrings Strange
Easy Life Genre-bending indie-funk quintet Nightmares
Georgia One-woman dance machine About Work The Dancefloor
Inhaler Shimmering, atmospheric rock anthems My Honest Face
Joesef Self-confessed “emotional sad boy” from Glasgow Play Me Something Nice
Joy Crookes South London stories filled with wit and romance Don’t Let Me Down
Squid Multi-tentacled art-rock polymaths Houseplants
Yungblud Hypersonic emo-pop for the “underrated youth” Original Me

Hailing from Dublin, Inhaler have built an impressive live following since forming at school over a shared love of bands like Joy Division, The Strokes, The Stone Roses and The Cure.

Once you know the U2 connection, it’s hard not to the similarities between Eli Hewson’s soaring vocals and those of his father – but the band have worked hard to stand on their own two feet.

“For me and for us as a band, we’ve known that there’s going to be doors open,” Hewson told the NME. “But those doors will shut just as fast as they open if we’re not good.”

They’re not the only act on the longlist with famous connections. Georgia, who scored a major club hit this year with About Work The Dancefloor, is the daughter of Leftfield’s Neil Barnes, while Yungblud is the grandson of Rick Harrison, who played with T Rex in the 1970s.

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Yungblud has built up a huge following with singles like Original Me and 11 Minutes

The Doncaster-born singer is the most high-profile name on the 2020 longlist, with 11 million monthly listeners on Spotify – more than all the other artists combined.

Born Dominic Harrison, the 22-year-old has positioned himself as the voice of a generation, singing about topics like sexual assault, corporate greed, anxiety and “the underrated youth”.

“I never want to be predictable,” he told the BBC earlier this year. “If people know what I’m going to do next, then I’m completely shafted.”

Sensitive singer-songwriter Joesef, meanwhile, has been branded one to watch in Scotland – where he became the second artist to sell out Glasgow’s legendary King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut before releasing any music online (the first was Lewis Capaldi).

The longlist is completed by two bands who defy categorisation – Leicester quintet Easy Life, who started out as jazz musicians before exploring the outer reaches of hip-hop, funk and pop; and Brighton’s Squid, who describe their music as “the Coronation Street theme tune played on flutes by angry children”.

The annual Sound of list celebrates musicians who have not been the lead artist on a UK top 10 single or album by 21 October 2019. Artists who have appeared on TV talent shows within the last three years are also ineligible.

The top five will be revealed in the New Year on BBC Radio 1 and BBC News, with one artist announced each day from Sunday 5 January until the winner is unveiled on Thursday 9 January.

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