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Last Updated: Friday, 24 February 2006, 17:11 GMT
Faces of the week
Faces of the week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are Sir Alan Sugar (main picture), with Germaine Greer, David Irving, The Prince of Wales and Mischa Barton.

Sir Alan Sugar

As the second series of The Apprentice hits the small screen, Sir Alan Sugar once more demonstrates the unique style that has taken him from market-stall trader to electronics mogul.

As far as catchphrases go, it's as succinct and to the point as they come. When Sir Alan says "You're fired!" well, you're fired.

Sir Alan Sugar is a walking, growling, embodiment of The Great British Dream: abrasive, opinionated, hard-working, yet with a certain boyish Cockney charm not a million miles removed from one Derek Trotter Esq., of Peckham.

Born in 1947 and brought up in a council house in Hackney, east London, Sir Alan was the youngest of four children: "Not a ruffian," he once mused, "but plenty of talk."

Too poor to have a bicycle as a child, he built one himself from an old frame. That sort of personal drive soon began to transform his life. By the age of 12, he was rising at 6am every day to boil beetroots for a local greengrocer.

Four years later, Sir Alan's earnings, after school and at weekends, were far outstripping those of his father, Nathan, who worked in a tailoring sweat-shop.

Alan Sugar with an early Amstrad computer
Mr PC: Alan Sugar brought computers to the masses
Having started out selling car aerials and cigarette lighters, aged just 21, he launched his own electronics company, Amstrad - Alan Michael Sugar Trading in 1968.

The firm floated on the stock market in 1980. Amstrad hi-fis and the groundbreaking PCW8256 personal computer - an all-in-one affair comprising processor/screen, keyboard and printer - sold like hot cakes, bringing the wonders of word-processing to everyone from students to small companies.

Thus, Alan Sugar made his first million. In fact, he was worth close-on 600m by the age of 40, making him the 15th richest person in the realm.

It was the height of the Thatcher Years. As old certainties went out of the window, a new breed of commercial buccaneer swung into action.

Death threats

"The 1980s gave anyone the opportunity to succeed," he says. "The establishment was smashed, definitely. The old school tie went out the window. Anybody can do anything now."

But Alan Sugar's is not a tale of unalloyed success. There have been blips along the way. Big blips.

The stock market crash of 1987 slashed the value of Amstrad to 197m, including a record one-day fall of 400m, and the company's fortunes took years to bounce back.

Alan Sugar and Terry Venables after taking over at Spurs in 1991
Alan Sugar and Terry Venables after taking over at Spurs in 1991
Then there was his involvement with Tottenham Hotspur. Despite little knowledge of the club's history - he is alleged to have once enquired "Double. What double?" - Sir Alan became Spurs's chairman in 1991.

Hailed as a saviour at first, he invested heavily, paying-off 20m of debts. But his relationship with Tottenham's fans collapsed after he sacked manager, Terry Venables - "I felt as though I'd killed Bambi" - and Sir Alan sold his shares in 2001, after death threats to him and his family.

Besides this, Amstrad has sometimes backed the wrong horse. In 1990, an attempt to enter the video gaming market bit the dust when the 8-bit GX4000 machine flopped spectacularly when faced with the 16-bit Sega Megadrive.

Three years later the PenPad, an early type of electronic personal organiser, also foundered.

And Sir Alan has just announced the demise of the Emailer, a combined telephone and emailing device which failed to capture the public's imagination and caused him to write-off more than 6m of stock.

Charity

This, and falling prices for set-top boxes, led to a 12% drop in Amstrad's profits in the six months up to 31 December 2005.

Though Sugar's critics remain highly sceptical about his role as arbiter of good management style on The Apprentice, Amstrad remains an important player in the retail electronics sector.

With a 28% share of the company, Sir Alan is worth an estimated 700m. Much of his wealth, though, now derives from his extensive property empire.

Yet the core of Amstrad's current business, the provision of set-top boxes for British Sky Broadcasting, remains highly lucrative.

Indeed, Rupert Murdoch's satellite television empire would not have got off the ground at all if Sugar had not been able to supply the required satellite dishes at ludicrously short notice: "You can have 100,000 a month by March and I'll retail them at 299," he supposedly told Murdoch.

Sir Alan Sugar
"You're fired!"
Despite his ferocious temper and generally feisty manner, Sir Alan Sugar is heavily involved in charity work.

He has long been a generous supporter of Great Ormond Street children's hospital and was instrumental in the resurrection of the Hackney Empire theatre, a classic example of Victoriana which he knew well as a child.

And he complains about his television persona, saying: "You don't get to see any of the light-hearted, friendly side because, as far as the TV producers are concerned, that doesn't put bums on seats."

The coming year will be crucial, not just for his own new apprentice, with Sir Alan planning to introduce an advanced Sky+ set-top box in the UK and Italy.

He is also looking to market a broadband internet phone, while closely monitoring Integra, the home beauty product developed by Tim Campbell, the winner of the first series of The Apprentice.

It seems there will have to be a calamity of huge proportions before Alan Sugar himself hears the words: "You're fired!"


Germaine Greer: Curtsey
Germaine Greer

That arch-rebel and feisty feminist, Germaine Greer, raised a few eyebrows when she curtseyed to the Queen. The author of The Female Eunuch, a staunch republican, was at a special reception for 200 Australians, held before the monarch departs on an antipodean tour next month. Dr Greer, who joined fellow Aussies including Clive James at the event, brushed-off her critics, saying "Once you have decided to go, you are honour-bound to accept the house rules."

Jailed: David Irving
David Irving

David Irving, the right-wing historian who wrote Hitler's War, was jailed for three years by a court in Vienna for denying the Holocaust. Irving was arrested in November on charges stemming from two speeches he gave in Austria in 1989. But his guilty plea failed to convince the jury that he should not be sent to prison. Irving, who says that he is a "victim of political theatre," is set to appeal against the sentence.

Diary fiasco: Prince Charles
The Prince of Wales

Red faces all round at Clarence House as a legal attempt to prevent publication of the Prince of Wales's journals backfired spectacularly. A judge at the High Court in London told lawyers to release the full text of a 1997 diary detailing Prince Charles's views on the handover of Hong Kong to China. The manuscript featured his musings on many matters, including flying club class, "It puzzled me as to why the seat seemed so uncomfortable."

Mischa Barton: Ms Eligible
Mischa Barton

Mischa Barton, star of the American television series, The OC, has been voted the UK's most eligible woman. 3,000 readers of the men's magazine FHM put her on top of the list for sex appeal, talent, star quality and cash. Barton, who was born in London and moved to the United States as a child, beat actress Naomi Watts, supermodel Kate Moss, singer Joss Stone and the Princess Royal's daughter, Zara Phillips.

Written by BBC News Profiles Unit's Andrew Walker


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