Sadly, last night saw the end of the road for Apprentice hopeful Howard Ebison. Howard effectively got fired for not being enough of a risk-taker, despite also being efficient, organisational and reliable and someone who has consistently enabled tasks rather than blocking them or trying to force his opinions on others.
The task itself was that old Apprentice favourite, the shopping channel. This was first used in the first series, providing viewers with the iconic sight of James Max modelling that paragon of sartorial chic, the Wolf Spirit fleece jacket. The task appeared again in Series Three and provided an hour of unalloyed comedy gold featuring people struggling with floor sweepers, messing about in wheelchairs – and eventual winner Simon Ambrose turning the apparently innocent procedure of screwing the legs on to a trampoline into an obscene act. The infamous Katie Hopkins meanwhile suggested that your average shopping channel viewer is a buxom woman called Mavis who rests her knitting on her ample bosom.
Like those previous occasions, the teams had to choose items from the channel’s warehouse that they thought they could sell in front of the cameras the following day, and then decide who was going to sell and who was going to guide over the microphone. Empire began with a stand-up row between Debra and Yasmina over who was going to be project manager, James’s input to the discussion swept away like twigs on a tsunami. Having won the battle, Yasmina then led her team to focus on low-price items that they could shift easily – these included the “polo-poncho”, a bizarre mutated scarf that came in rainbow colours, and a leaf collector dubbed the “grab-o-saurus”. Yasmina and James pratted about like some lo-fi comedy double act, getting their prices wrong and tripping over the scenery, whilst Debra’s often destructive energy was finally channelled into some positive results, as she shifted ridiculous quantities of the acid trip headscarf.
Howard decided to put himself up for leader of Ignite, wearing a red shirt to match Lorraine/Cassandra’s red jumper (the appearance of which is always a bad sign for anyone daring to stand in her way). Lorraine’s “instinct” said that the team should go for products that reflect their personalities, which leads one to question exactly what product would reflect her personality. Howard ignored this input, which would be fair enough given such a suggestion, but in Lorraine’s case is never a good idea. What they went for instead were: a hideous metallic leather jacket, covered in gold, silver or bronze leaves, and which made the Wolf Spirit number look like something from the house of Dior; a low-fat fryer; an infra-red air guitar; and some weird craft kit that involved sticking sequins in polystyrene cats. The latter was chosen over a cute dinosaur that responded to being touched, and reminded me irresistibly of this product:
Howard decided that Lorraine should present with him, as she had crashed and burned spectacularly during rehearsals on the first day. Some awkward banter about going to a party accompanied their attempts to sell the jacket, then a lot of wibbling about chips when they moved on to the low-fat fryer – at which point Irish Lorraine came out of the woodwork, doubtless to the bemusement of the Mavises of the world: “Havin’ two daughters maself, Oi dorn’t achly let dem have chips, Oi have ter say”. Fatally, they failed to ram home the price and the phone number and website for ordering the fryer, and this impacted on their sales of what turned out to be two of the channel’s most popular products.
In the end, Ignite lost by about £200, and whilst Empire went off to enjoy some aerobatics, Howard, Kate and Lorraine faced the boardroom. Sir Alan worried that Kate was a one-trick pony and had taken her eye off the ball. He brought up (as he had done before) the fact that Lorraine’s complaints that a task was going in the wrong direction always came after the event. However, it was poor old Howard who got fired – and here’s where this run of the shopping channel task had something in common with the previous two appearances, as they also culminated in an unfair firing (calmly consistent Miriam in Series One and competently professional Naomi in Series Three). Lorraine, to my way of thinking, held Howard back in this task and may have been playing a bit of a game in order to get rid of someone she possibly perceived as a threat: she seemed to spend much of the task being rather useless whilst heaping flattery on him, and her remark in the boardroom that he was “a great operator” had a definite edge to it. After all, he could have just left her to flounder in front of the cameras – but, as before, he tried to hold his team together and take them with him, rather than letting weaker candidates fend for themselves. That quality seemed to get ignored by Sir Alan (and by Nick, who clearly didn’t take to Howard at all, accusing him of not being a “brave warrior”, whatever that means), as did the fact that Howard had successfully led his team to victory in the first week – a large team that included such difficult personalities as Ben and Philip – and, had he been allowed a bit more oxygen by Debra, could probably have made good the Gay Margate concept a couple of weeks ago.
Howard, like all the firees, departed in the back of a taxi, observing that maybe he’d be a bit more of a maverick (although hopefully not in the Sarah Palin sense) in the future. He didn’t even seem particularly bitter on You’re Fired, although he obviously still felt (quite rightly) that it should have been Lorraine facing the panel. I suspect her turn will come next week when the interviews culminate in a triple firing before the final. I’m sad to see that he hasn’t made it all the way – but on the other hand, I think it’d be a shame for him to be stuck in some back office in Brentwood handling some project that nobody else wants. He’s young enough to do pretty much anything he wants and seems to have a quiet intelligence that perhaps would be wasted in Sir Alan’s organisation. And, as my friend Rob observed, he can certainly work a suit…