In Depth

Who is Claude Littner? The Apprentice's new hard man

Candidates beware, the world's scariest interviewer is now Lord Sugar's right-hand man

Alan Sugar's new assistant, Claude Littner, is only two episodes into The Apprentice and he already appears unimpressed with the candidates.

The BBC's ever-popular business start-up game show returned to television screens last week for its eleventh series, with Littner taking the place of Sugar's former aide Nick Hewer.

So who is he and what does it mean for the show?

Chairman of the board

Claude Littner is a British business executive and the current chairman of IT services company Viglen. A trained accountant, Littner developed a career as a turn-around specialist – someone who takes over failing companies and makes them profitable again.

In this role he met Sugar and chaired a number of his companies. He was also chief executive of football team Tottenham Hotspur from 1993 to 1998, when Sugar owned the team.

The scary interviewer

Apprentice fans will already be familiar with Littner, who has made regular appearances on the show since 2005. He is known for making candidates quiver during the final interview stage. His confrontational style has earned him a reputation as "the world's scariest interviewer".

Writing about Littner ahead of the new series, Digital Spy said: "Good luck, candidates. You're going to need it." Candidates shouldn't expect "a cuddly mentor", says Digital Spy, reminding them that Littner has said: "I don't tend to get emotional about anything."

What is he doing now?

Littner has moved on from his role as final interviewer to assessing the performance of candidates earlier in the process, individually and within their teams, as Nick Hewer once did.

He is reporting to Sugar to ensure that his boss's personal investment of £250,000 goes to the best candidate.

The putdowns

Littner is known for some searing put-downs of underperforming candidates. He has previously told wannabe business moguls that their plans are "ridiculous", "farcical" and "a bloody disgrace", and has told them that they are "a parasite" and "an arrogant fool". He told one candidate that their business ideas were "grubby" and in 2010 he famously told candidate Stuart Baggs: "You're not a big fish – you're not even a fish."

There have been few one-liners so far but, as the Daily Telegraph points out, the early stages of The Apprentice would be sunk by too much straight talking. We might therefore have to wait until the final episodes before he reduces anyone to tears. In the meantime, the Telegraph suggests Littner might want to work on making "a range of exaggerated facial expressions while pretending to take notes".

He is fluent in French

In tonight's challenge, candidates travel to Calais to find nine items and negotiate the best possible prices for them. As the boys dust off their best school-level French, Littner is seen "tittering" in the background because "he's actually got a bit of secret... he's fluent in French", says the Radio Times. Therefore he knows exactly what is being said and whether or not it makes any sense. "The candidates have no idea. Is he helping? Why of course not," says the magazine. "He's there purely to observe and watch the madness unfold."

Littner's interview pain

Littner may now be known as the interviewer from hell, ready to pounce on the slightest mistake or weakness, but it turns out he has also been on the receiving end of a bad interview, says the Radio Times. Littner told the magazine that he once had a terrible first interview with Lord Sugar.

During the meeting Sugar reportedly hardly spoke, stared out of the window and whistled, and finally said "bored" before getting up and leaving. Littner, however, got the job and the two are now friends.

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