Dragons’ Den vs The Secret Millionaire vs World Business

Regular readers (ooh, doesn’t that sound fancy?) will know of my deep feelings for The Apprentice. Judging from messages we receive, the show has become a kind of televisual mentor-surrogate to many entrepreneurial young people. You wouldn’t trust the candidates for an evening’s babysitting, but the programme has become (pomposity alert) really quite important to the kind of aspiring entrepreneurs who we champion.

The void left by Nick, Margaret and the vegetables has this summer been filled with a plethora of business programmes. Whether you’re after a bit of business S&M (Dragons’ Den), a soppy tear-jerker (The Secret Millionaire), Zen wisdom (anything broadcast by Peter Day), or a daily morning fix (Evan Davis turning any Today programme topic into an economics discussion), the networks have something for almost everyone.

Over the past couple of days, for example, we’ve seen the kind of unique anthropological footage that’s normally only captured on David Attenborough’s wildlife programmes: yes, Duncan Bannatyne got his wallet out. And we’ve enjoyed the peculiar Deborah Meaden mouth-wriggle when she’s challenged by one of the entrepreneurs. (It may be just me, but she ever so slightly reminds me of Rio Ferdinand when she does that weird chewingy thing.)

The problem, of course, with Dragons’ Den is its claustrophobia. It’s like one of those pieces of experimental theatre when you’re locked away for a couple of hours with only Stephen Berkoff and a couple of chairs for company. I just wish the programme-makers would take us outside for a few minutes to have a fag and a chat.

By contrast, The Secret Millionaire always takes you (and the millionaires featured) into new territory. Last night, IT entrepreneur Kavita Oberoi went to Buehrmingham (sic) for her ten-day stint roughing it with the real people. There, she found some very noble causes and ending up crying her eyes out (as, indeed, did I) when she presented the founder of Sisters with Voices (a charity that inspires teenage girls through an eight-week confidence-building course) with a cheque for £25,000.

I’ll declare an interest in that I’ve met and interviewed Kavita and have been enormously impressed by her as a young woman of vitality and integrity. That certainly shone through last night, when she also had the honesty to confess that she can be "judgmental" and that the experience had shifted her perceptions of the unemployed and disadvantaged. As she said, many highly committed individuals are everyday undermined and scuppered by accidents of their circumstances or by the system they must fight just to survive. It really was a very moving show.

Earlier in the evening I’d caught Peter Day’s World Business show on the World Service. For the one or two of you out there who may not be aware of the genius of this broadcaster, Peter Day is quite simply an institution, a veteran business correspondent to whom, wisely, the BBC has given free rein to explore and illuminate the world of business.

The likes of the Dragons may garner much publicity, but Day is a one-man ratings phenomenon. The podcast of his In Business show is the second most downloaded radio programme on the BBC. Such his worldwide appeal that his programmes are increasingly prefixed by his name. The Daily Mail has dubbed him "The Podfather".

On last night’s show, he interviewed Chanda Kochar of ICICI Bank, one of India’s most powerful business women. If I’m honest, she wasn’t the most exciting of interviewees:  too much slick media training to be truly believable.

But as so often, Day’s questioning was as interesting as the interviewee’s answers. He gently cajoled Kochar about the role of women in Indian society today; her bank’s aggressive pursuit of microfinance loans; and whether India isn’t a shade guilty of believing its own "economic miracle" publicity. You could almost hear the squeak of Kochar’s Chanel/Hermes/Prada handbag as she recounted the "challenges, not problems" facing India today.

It’s painful surviving without Sir Alan, but there are plenty of substitutes.


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