SIR Alan Sugar was on good form at the press launch for a new series of The Apprentice.
“You’re sounding like that Geordie,” he told me.
A reference to one of the 15 new boardroom wannabes in the fifth series, which begins on BBC1 next Wednesday.
Sir Alan got my home town of Newcastle upon Tyne right.
But he was less keen on my question.
Sadly, a growing number of the viewing audience for The Apprentice will either have recently lost their jobs or be worried that they’re about to join the dole queue.
Unemployment today having gone over the two million mark.
So his famous phrase “You’re fired” will carry extra resonance for many.
As one of the few people still hiring, I asked Sir Alan if he could see any light at the end of the recession tunnel.
“I’m kind of like sick and tired of being asked that question,” he replied.
“I can understand why you ask people like me, but I have no clue, to be honest with you.
“Neither does anybody else.
“We’re going to work our way out of this and I suppose we just have to keep our heads down and keep on doing what we’re best at doing.
“That’s all I can say. But there’s no magic wand that anybody has or can wave that’s going to pull us out of this recession.”
You can read more about the new series – and the latest line-up – here.
With a gallery of 20 pics here.
The venue was Kings Place, a new building complex at King’s Cross in London.
Which also happens to be the home of our sister paper The Guardian.
We were shown the first episode in full, including the moment when Sir Alan fires his first victim of 2009.
It’s a cracking opening to the series, with some of the candidates fighting like rats in a sack.
And Sir Alan’s right-hand woman Margaret Mountford describing one of the two teams as “a complete shambles”.
BBC1 controller Jay Hunt was, naturally, keen to insist that The Apprentice is even more relevant in these credit crunch times.
You’ll have to make your own mind up about that.
But it sure makes for top telly, with what Jay promised were some more “jaw-dropping moments”.
As ever, it appears this latest bunch of people you might otherwise cross the road to avoid have learned nothing from previous series.
Don’t they own DVD players?
“It never fails to amaze me,” said Sir Alan.
You won’t be disappointed by the size of some of the egos on screen.
Or the failure to spot the absolute obvious when embarking on a task.
The first one involves cleaning – cars and shoes.
And, yes, someone does leave a car door open when they’re spray washing.
There’s an early joke as Sir Alan meets his new intake in the boardroom for the first time.
“It could be, of course, that you’re here because you’re good with words,” he tells them.
“You know the right thing to say at the right time.
“I mean, I know the words to Candle In The Wind.
“Don’t make me Elton John – right?”
Having met thousands of people in this job, I can tell you that Sir Alan really isn’t as fearsome as you might think.
Just as The Apprentice boardroom is a TV studio set, he is playing a role for the cameras in a series which is, of course, heavily edited.
But you still have to be careful.
At the post-screening Q&A, one reporter asked: “Are you as scary as you come across on television?”
A languid Sir Alan replied: “Well, not really but if you pester me too much now you might see the other side of me.”
And “that Geordie”, as Sir Alan calls him?
That’ll be estate agent Phillip Taylor, 29, from County Durham, who makes his views plain in the first episode.
Or possibly Rocky Andrews, 21, who runs a sandwich business across the North East of England.
There’ll be more coverage of the new series in an MEN TV feature next week.
Sir Alan Ready For Apprentices
The Apprentice 2009 Pic Gallery