New apprenticeship for Nick

Like most Apprentice fans, there was one guarantee that kept me watching week after week. It wasn’t the stupidity of the contestants, nor Alan Sugar’s poor attempts at wit. Rather, it was the assurance of a look (sometimes many) of sheer disdain at the contestants from Lord Sugar’s faithful aide (and sidekick), Nick Hewer. Imagine, then, my delight, when I learnt that everyone’s favourite cynic was to take over as the new host of Countdown in 2012.

This excitement was, nonetheless, soon marred by a few slight worries. Would Hewer’s disdain be ever present during Countdown? Would he, rather than being liked by the Countdown team, be regarded as an aloof and unfriendly presence on an otherwise ideal show for grannies to watch over a cup of tea and a biscuit? Worst of all…would he actually ruin both his own career, and a loveable programme, by being a poor match? Thankfully, my fears were unfounded. Rather than being disdainful, Hewer has been mostly rather charming. Admittedly, that could also have been disastrous…but Hewer manages it wonderfully. His charm, believe it or not, is utterly genuine. He doesn’t overdo it and make the viewer feel queasy. Indeed, he’s certainly happy to let contestants know how he feels. I recall watching him chastise an otherwise very successful contestant after his poor attempt to guess the conundrum as “Mosquited” (It was actually ‘misquoted’). He responded with the air of disappointment that a teacher feels when their top student says something stupid in class: “Don’t be ridiculous…coming from a champ!” and three tuts. As if this wasn’t enough, he then appealed to the audience for the answer by claiming that there was “abject failure” on the contestants’ part. The man takes no prisoners.

Throughout the past two weeks, Hewer’s been slowly trying to settle in. He gives the audience regular updates on what number show he’s at, how much he’s still enjoying it, and how he’s getting to know the mechanics of the show. His introductions and goodbyes in every show take a little longer than they should (indeed, one never really knows when he’s finished with them!). He awkwardly tries banter with Rachel and regularly flirts with her (when Rachel recently claimed she’d have to take a numbers game home, for instance, he responded with “you can take me home!’). 

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And…it works perfectly. The past three presenters have been good. Their chat was less awkward, they said the right words and they kept things professional. But the yardstick for any long-term Countdown fan is the late Richard Whiteley. Whiteley was neither polished nor ‘showbiz’. Whiteley appealed to people because he was genuine, likeable and that little bit mischievous. Hewer shares these qualities. Between his slightly awkward banter that brings an inevitable smile, and his cheeky comments to his female colleagues, Hewer is like the granddad everyone would visit and enjoy having at home for Christmas. For students and OAPs alike, then, Nick is just the ticket. Long may he reign!