It’s funny what you can come across sometimes when you least expect it. As a child, I remember once when because of unusual atmospheric conditions I managed to somehow pick up the signal from a US television station on our set at home. In our modern world of satellite and cable, the chances of that happening seem to have increased exponentially, depending on conditions.
I experienced a very unusual example of that the other night, when I was idly flipping through the channels on my satellite box and I stumbled over one that I’d never seen before. The program it was showing was familiar in the setup, yet very different in the content. I scribbled some notes down, and I’ll try to recreate it here, but if you know this channel or show do get in touch. It intrigued me.
The camera pans over a cityscape, and as the music plays an announcer speaks. “Sixteen candidates have applied for the position, and now only two are left. Boss Andy’s search for a new assistant is nearly over.”
The scene cuts to a corporate boardroom. Seated at the table are two people, one male and one female. The man is smartly dressed, in a charcoal grey business suit and white shirt. The woman is wearing a cream cashmere sweater, with a Hermes scarf tied around the neck, a black leather skirt and knee length boots. Both are sitting anxiously awaiting the arrival of someone.
Bright lights come on behind the other side of the table, and three people enter. As they take their seats, the man in the middle starts to talk.
Both the man and the woman reply “Good Morning Boss Andy”.
“The two of you have done well to reach this stage, and now only one task remains. To help you in this task, I’ve invited back those candidates who are still at liberty to take part to help you.” Pressing a button on the desk, he says “Show them in, Kay.”
Eight people, six men and two women, come into the room and stand behind the two contestants, exchanging greetings as they enter.
“Right, I have a very simple final task for you. You have seventy two hours to plan and execute a robbery to net a minimum of one million pounds, while evading detection and arrest. The candidate who in my opinion does the best job gets the job, and that doesn’t necessarily mean the one who bags the most money. I’m looking for ingenuity and talent here, not just extortion skills. Do you understand the task?”
“Yes Boss Andy.”
“Right, Alex, who are you going to pick to help you first?”
The woman turns and looks at the group. “I’ll take Mandy and Clare first, Boss Andy.”
“Steve and John.”
“Alex, pick two more.”
“Mark and Dave”
“George and Zane, you will work with Bert as well. Right, good luck to both of you, and we’ll meet again in three days time to see how you got on.”
Alex and Bert stood up and said “Thank you, Boss Andy”, then led their teams out of the room.
Over the next few minutes, you saw scenes of both of the teams selecting and assessing potential clients for their tasks. Obviously, in this style of show past weeks had shown a variety of tasks that they had to undertake and, more importantly, learn from, so I was fascinated in the way they went about their work.
What was immediately obvious was that the two final candidates had very different styles. Bert was more of a classic strong arm artist, as vindicated by his choice of three of the more muscular men, but Steve who he selected at first was more cerebral. Alex, on the other hand, was definitely of the planning and subtlety type, as her team was discussing various scenarios and possibilities for the work they wanted to do.
We rejoin the program as they start to execute their chosen plans…
Team Alex has decided that the safest way to meet the target is an old-fashioned kidnap for ransom, but with a more modern twist. They have selected one of the leading financiers to extort money from, and their background checks have revealed that his wife is visiting her mother in Switzerland. Alex dispatches Mandy and Dave to Zurich to execute the first phase of their plan, while Clare is assigned to watch the college that their daughter is attending.
Team Bert have, by contrast, targeted a local jewel merchant, who they have discovered from the gossip pages is holding an exclusive showing for the wives and girlfriends of prominent local people in their showroom. The show is tomorrow night, which gives them 24 hours to get their plans in place.
The day of the task dawns, and both teams are followed as they go about their respective tasks. In Zurich, Mandy and Dave are watching the house where their target’s relatives live, assessing the best way to affect an entry. Team Bert, in the meantime, mange to secrete Zane into the team assigned by the security firm that have been hired to provide protection, and Steve has obtained a temporary job as a caterer in the firm providing food.
The clock on the screen shows 3 pm, and Team Alex start their plan off. The camera follows Dave and Mandy as they drive up to the door of the house, and their car breaks down in front.
Mandy steps out and knocks on the door, which is answered by a young woman dressed in a black dress.
“I wonder if you could help me, please,” Mandy says in an American accent, “Our car has broken down and I do not have a cell phone that works in this area. Would it be possible for you to let me use your phone so that I can call for a tow truck?”
The young woman looks around to see if anyone else is there, then beckons to Mandy to come in. “I won’t be a minute sweetie,” she calls to Dave as she goes into the house and the door closes behind her. We watch for a couple of minutes until Dave lets the car roll down the street before starting the engine again.
In the city, Team Bert has started their preparations as well. The three remaining members make their way to a building next to the merchants, posing as workmen, and make their way down to the cellar. Having studied old plans for the buildings, they have noticed that the two cellars used to be one, but that a dividing wall was out in and the structure is not that strong. Having established a base of operations in the cellar, they proceed to remove the bricks from the partition as quickly and as noiselessly as possible.
4 pm. Dave is seen walking casually back up to the house, and stopping outside the door he knocks lightly. The door opens slightly, and Dave enters followed by the camera crew. We see that the door opened into a downstairs area, and Mandy is standing there having donned a pair of gloves and a stocking mask to complement her black roll neck sweater and jeans. Dave quickly removes his jacket and dons similar items.
Through a doorway, we can see the young lady who opened the door has been tightly bound around the arms, legs and ankles, and is lying on the floor struggling to get free. A length of duct tape covers a bulging mouth that has obviously been stuffed with something, and a scarf is tied over her eyes.
Mandy picks up a mobile phone and makes a call. In the city, we see Alex receive the call.
“We have gained entry – moving in on targets now. How is backup plan progressing?”
“Backup plan is progressing well – call when you have pictures ready to send.”
Team Bert, meanwhile, has made a sufficiently large hole in the wall to allow them to enter the building next door. All three members are wearing blue boiler suits, and are stopping for a moment to brush them down. Meanwhile, the camera shows the catering staff starting to arrive, with Mark clearly seen, while Zane is arriving with the other security staff.
Back in Zurich, the camera follows Mandy and Dave as they climb a staircase and enter an ornate hallway. As they enter, they draw a pistol each and make their way across the marbled floor.
Just as they approach a doorway, the door opens and a woman of about 40 steps out, only to run into the two masked team members. She had shoulder length brown hair, and is wearing a brown twin set and knee length tweed skirt with brown shoes.
Throwing her hands up in horror, she is powerless to resist Dave and Mandy as they push her back into the room. A woman in her late 60’s stands up as they come in, and starts to scream before Mandy politely tells her to stop. She is wearing a silk sweater and cream coloured slacks, with a scarf in her hair as a hair band.
“Both of you stay absolutely quiet, and do as you’re told, and you’ll come to no harm,” Dave says, “Now sit down, ankles crossed and palms of your hands in your laps, and we’ll tell you what is going to happen next.”
Zane of Team Bert has been charged with ensuring the other security staff does not pose a problem, and for that he has used the simple expedient of a powerful sedative in their coffee which they have before they start. The other three security guards are unconscious in the room as Bert, Steve and John enter the room.
“Nice work, Zane,” Bert says as they remove their overalls. “Let’s get their uniforms on and join the crowd before they arrive.”
5 pm. Alex takes a call, and looks at the pictures she is receiving.
“OK, we need to make our move in the next hour or so.” Using the phone, she calls Mark.
“Mark, it’s Alex. Time for you and Clare to go to work. Follow the daughter home and make preparations..”
6 pm. The exclusive invited audience have started to arrive for the show. Steve is one of the waiters walking around offering canapés, while the other four have taken the place of the security guards.
Mark and Clare, meanwhile, are outside the exclusive flat used by their mark when he is in the city. They have been watching the home of the financier, and are merely waiting for him to return.
In Zurich, we see that David and Mandy have taken the two women up to one of the bedrooms, and both are lying side by side on a large bed. Their wrists have been tied together above their heads, and the ropes secured to the ornate metal headboard. Their ankles have been crossed and tied as well, and secured to a similarly ornate footboard. Both have their legs tied together above their ankles, and there are ropes around their waists holding them together. As with the young woman downstairs, strips of tape are over their mouths holding some sort of packing in place, but neither is blindfolded.
7 pm. The target for Team Alex has arrived home, and Alex has joined Mark and Clare outside the house. All three walk up to the front door and ring the bell, pulling stockings over their head while they wait for the door to be opened.
As the door is opened, all three rush in and surprise the daughter who let them in. She is wearing a white t-shirt with a black waistcoat, blue jeans and knee length brown leather boots. Her screams cause her father to come out, but when he sees the guns pointing at him and his daughter he holds his hands up in surrender.
“Both of you - inside now,” Alex calls out, and the party make their way back into what is obviously their living room.
“Right, just shut up and listen. First, you” Alex says pointing at the man, “Have a look at this.”
She shows him her mobile phone, and the camera pans around to show a picture on the phone of the two captives in Zurich.
“Thhh… that’s my wife,” he stutters.
“Very good – and unless you do as we say, she stays permanently there in a body bag. Do you understand?”
The man nods
“Very good – now, what we want is very simple. We want you, in the next three hours, to find one million pounds sterling and give it to us. We know you’re more than capable of doing that, so don’t say you can’t. As an added incentive, my friend here,” she says pointing at Mandy, “is going to look after your daughter as well, and my other friend will keep an eye on you. Any attempt to contact the police, or delay us, and your daughter gets hurt. Do you understand?”
“Daddy, please, just do as they say” the girl cries out, and the man nods.
“Good – you have three hours. Go with him,” she says to Mark, and the two men leave the room.
“As for you, young lady, turn around and put your hands behind your back.”
The girl slowly does as she is asked.
At the jewel merchants, the private showing is in full swing when Bert decides it is time to make his move. Steve has quietly locked the outside doors and disabled the alarm system, so when Bert suddenly interrupts the speaker at the podium who is welcoming the guests there is little or no chance of alerting the authorities.
“Everyone stay exactly where you are,” Bert shouts while he produces a pistol from his holster, “this is a raid. Do as you’re told and no-one will get hurt. Everyone, down no their knees and put their hands behind their head.”
The other three members of Team Bert, who have been posing as security guards, also produce pistols and point them over the screaming crowd. Steve and the other catering staff watch in shock.
“I said be quiet” Bert shouts, and everyone stops screaming. “Once more, on your knees and hands behind your head. You,” he says pointing at the catering staff, “all of you come over here.”
As the white shirted waiters and waitresses come over, Bert produces a large batch of zip ties. “Take these,” he says to the caterers, “and tie the hands of every person behind their backs and their ankles together. We’re watching, so do it properly.”
8.30 pm. Team Alex is still in the financier’s house. His daughter is lying on a long couch, her wrists and ankles bound with rope and duct tape over her mouth. She watches Alex and Clare as they sit keeping her guard.
In Zurich, the two captives there have been untied from the bed, only to be rebound back to back with ropes now around their chests and legs holding them together. Dave and Mandy are watching them as well.
At the showroom, all the guests have been tied hand and foot, and Steve is tying up the other catering staff. As he finishes, he too is pushed to the floor and bound by the hands and feet by Zane. The other team members are stripping the guests of their jewellery and money, while Bert is loading the items on display into his bag.
The camera finally focuses on Mark, who is watching the financier working through some papers in his workplace.
10 pm. At the showroom, the camera shows the entire room bound and struggling to get free, as Team Bert exits the room. As they leave, Bert shouts over his shoulder “Nobody move for half an hour!”
The financier, meanwhile, is shown being escorted back into the front room by Mark. Mark is carrying a holdall with items in it from his office. Alex and Clare sand up and go over to the daughter, forcing her onto her feet. “Your daughter is coming with us for a little while, but we’ll allow your wife to try and get free now. If we find you’ve called the police, you know what will happen to your daughter. She will be freed once we have a chance to get away.”
Clare ties a bandana over the daughter’s eyes as a blindfold, and they frogmarch her out between them as Mark closes the door behind them. As they leave the house, Alex calls the team in Zurich.
The camera cuts back to Zurich, as Dave and Mandy leave the two older women on the bed. They start to struggle as the camera fades out.
We next see Bert and Alex back in the boardroom, with their teams behind them. Boss Andy has rejoined them, flanked by two of his closest advisors. Curiously, Steve has not joined them in the board room.
“Bert, Alex, thank you for coming back today. It has now been a couple of days, and your tasks have started to be reported. My advisors have told me something of what happened, but I want to hear this from you as well. Alex – you went for what appears to be an old-fashioned kidnapping and extortion. Why did you think this was the good thing to do?”
“Well, Boss Andy, given the limited timeframe we needed to keep the operation small and neat, so targeting one person who could give us maximum yield was I felt to be the best approach.”
“So why did you pick someone that needed half of your team to leave the country.”
“I felt it actually increased the chances of success if we made it even more difficult for our mark to influence what was happening with the negotiating chips we had.”
“And yet, you still took his daughter captive as well?”
“She was there when we moved in, but we had anticipated that, and it was useful tool to buy us some additional time to make good our escape.”
“What did you do with her in the end?”
“We left her in a service station on the M1. It was early in the morning, and we covered her with a shawl before leaving her in a public toilet.”
“Dave and Mandy, were you comfortable with the role Alex asked you to play?”
“Yes, Boss Andy. The worst part was actually driving over the border into France before the alarm was raised in Zurich.”
“You managed it all right, though?”
“Yes, we did.”
“And did you inform the local bosses that you were operating in the area?”
Alex looks at the other two, who look sheepish. Dave speaks up.
“No, we didn’t Boss Andy. Is this a problem?”
“I took a few heated phone calls today, but I have placated them. It does mean, however, that I will have to take the fee from your final total. Always remember, if you do this in the future, common courtesy means you let the local leaders know and pay tribute.
Having said that, you appear to have done well. What is the final total?”
One of the advisers opens a ledger.
“After expenses, the total value taken was one million, 92 thousand and eight pounds.”
Alex and her team look pleased with themselves.
“Now, Bert, you went for a more direct approach, didn’t you? An old fashioned blag in a high yield audience?”
“Yes, Boss Andy.”
“Much more risky, but I like the old school approach sometimes. Did you encounter any problems?”
“Not during the time leading up to or the execution, Boss Andy, but there were one or two issues afterwards.”
“We’ll come to them. One question first – how did you infiltrate the security firm so quickly?”
“I had some inside help there Boss Andy – one of the owners owed me a few favours?”
“Do you still have the cause of those favours?”
“I do, Boss Andy.”
“So, tell me about what happened afterwards.”
“As we were leaving, one of the guests at the event managed to free herself earlier than we had anticipated, and she raised the alarm. We barely had time to get out of the building before the police arrived.”
“Is that why Steve is not here with you?”
“I am afraid so, Boss Andy. One of the officers who arrived recognised him, and arrested him on suspicion there and then. Be assured, however, that the usual arrangements have been put in place.”
“A pity – I liked Steve, he had shown some promise before I fired him. Anyway, what is the total on your job?”
The other adviser opened his ledger.
“The final total, once the lawyer was paid for, was one million, 90 thousand and three hundred pounds estimated.”
“So, very close in terms of value. I need to have a word with my advisers now, so all of you step outside and I’ll call you back in when I have made my decision.”
Regretfully, I must have dosed off for a few minutes, for when I next looked there was a picture of a very happy Alex shaking hands with her team and drinking champagne, so I took it she had won this competition. The announcer also said that the scenes of the jobs in action had been recreated later, so that explained why these people weren’t in jail at that point.
I sat there is disbelief as the credits rolled, but I was fascinated by the idea of a version of The Apprentice for the criminal fraternity. I guess it shows The Teacher in Ecclesiastes was right – there is nothing new under the sun….