I quite enjoy watching The Apprentice, but I find it best to think of it as a work of fiction put together by editing footage of actual events. Clearly situations are engineered by producers in order to generate conflict and give contestants an opportunity to appear really foolish for our entertainment. Characters are created and plot lines engineered through careful editing and commentary. What we see on the screen – obviously – is far from being the whole story.
In recent series the winner acquires Lord Sugar as a business partner with up to £250,000 to invest in his or her business idea. In the original format, however, the prize was a one-year contract working for one of Lord Sugar’s companies at a salary of £100K. One thing that always puzzled me about this was that nobody seemed interested in what the job actually was. Even when it got to the interview stage, we didn’t see anybody say ‘this job I’m applying for – what is it exactly?’. Behind the scenes or off camera, of course, they may have talked of little else, but the storytellers putting the programme together seemed to think that the salary was all that mattered.
So I would have thought that by series six, one thing would have become clear to all of the contestants: it isn’t about the job! Participating in The Apprentice is an opportunity to be on telly and become a bit famous. If you want to get a really good job paying £100K a year then frankly there are easier and more reliable ways of doing that than being forced through the humiliations that being a contestant on The Apprentice involves. And you might even get to have some sort of say in what your job actually is.
So when Stella English is reported as complaining that the job itself turned out not to be a proper job at all, I do wonder what she could have been expecting. No doubt it was upsetting for her to be – on her account – an overpaid lackey. But then I always say that if you’re going to be lackey, it’s best to be an overpaid one.
The press reports of her Employment Tribunal hearing are presented as a form of entertainment. They tell a story of disillusionment, anger and betrayal. But they don’t actually tell us what the case is about or what is really happening. Like an episode of The Apprentice itself, the story we are given has been carefully edited to give it some narrative drive and cut out the boring bits.
Naturally, it’s the boring bits that I would be most interested in – like for instance, who is she actually suing? It seems that she worked at Viglen between September 2010 and May 2011 when she resigned and was given a new role at Youview TV Ltd which she left in September 2011. Is she suing Viglen or Youview? The press do all seem to agree that she is suing for constructive dismissal, though whether the claim relates to her resignation from Viglen or from YouView is not entirely clear. I’m also not sure where she gets her one year’s service from. For some reason the press reports don’t mention whether Viglen and YouView are associated employers for the purposes of S.218(6) Employment Rights act 1996.
It seems as though the evidence has focussed largely on her job at Viglen which was apparently an unhappy experience for her. But it isn’t clear what she relies on as the fundamental breach of contract that led to her resignation. Was it the conversation with Alan Sugar where he told her than her contract (with Youview) wasn’t going to be renewed? Or was it the meeting where the chief executive of Viglen allegedly said of her: ‘nice girl, don’t do a lot’? Either way there is something very odd about this claim. To get more than token damages claimants have to show that they have lost something as a result of being constructively dismissed. Given that, it does seem to be an odd tactic to claim that the whole job was a sham and that there was nothing to do. If that is right, then it certainly wouldn’t have lasted beyond the first year anyway – so what has she actually lost? If it is the loss of the job at Youview that she is complaining about then why all the evidence about how awful her job with Viglen was? Frankly, I’m confused.
Lord Sugar has accused Ms English of bringing a vexatious claim in the belief that he would settle rather than risk the publicity the case would attract. No-one whose knowledge of the case is based on the press reports is in any position to have an opinion about that – we’ll have to wait and see what the Tribunal’s findings actually are. But just as The Apprentice is a piece of entertainment that doesn’t tell us anything about how the real world of business operates, so this case tells us very little about employment law or the sort of cases that Employment Tribunals deal with.
Still, its fun to watch.