Beware the wrath of fire-breathing dragons

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Dragons’ Den, BBC2

Divine Designs: Spitalfields, Five

THE capitalists have never had it so good. Market values underpin every aspect of our daily lives and, while greed is no longer the god it was in the 1980s, you’re still nobody if you’ve got nowt.

Dragons’ Den assembled five entrepreneurs worth half a billion quid between them. It sat them in a row, behind a table in a bare warehouse, and paraded budding entrepreneurs before them. Beside each so-called dragon was a pile of their own cash, which they would invest in any idea that impressed them.

To give this gimmick a gloss of respectability, the BBC’s economics reporter, Evan Davis, acted as presenter. Evan has surprisingly good communication skills for a man with a shaven head. By contrast, most of the patsies demonstrating their ideas could hardly get their own names out. There was something wrong with this programme. Anyone, be they star or punter, who appears on telly these days has bags of self-confidence (I’m excluding the Scotch from this, obviously). But nearly everybody appearing before this panel was a bag of nerves. Was it the unpleasant surroundings or the grim, appraising stares of the money-mongers?

Whatever, it certainly got to the first contestant, Graham Whitby, who wanted 150,000 to produce his rocking device for shutting up babies. Poor Graham. The performance will haunt him (warning to potential TV contestants: the performance can come to define your life). He was so nervous he could hardly speak, and had to keep stopping to take deep breaths. "I’m very sorry. I’m a father of three," he explained, adding: "Oh dear, oh dear, no." Globules of sweat appeared on his forehead.

"I can do it. I’m going to compose myself. I’m the managing director of Babydream Limited," he told himself and, alas, the nation. Of course, his device didn’t work properly at first. "Oh my God, It’s dreadful," he said, breaking the second of rule of telly appearance: if things go wrong, never think out loud.

Gavin Drake was more gallus, and that was his undoing (talk about a no-win situation). He wanted 100,000 for a music and arts festival, which may or may not feature a troupe of French-Argentinian tango artistes. Duncan Bannatyne, a Glaswegian who runs a health chain, asked Gavin what he did for a living. "I’m an entrepreneur. I work alongside creatives," said Gavin vaguely. Duncan was unimpressed (he didn’t say it, but the word "plonker" stared out of his eyes). Gavin’s eyes reciprocated and he declared unwisely: "From now on I’ll try and direct my questions and answers to the people who may be interested." This turned out be nobody. Gavin protested: "Well how come Pizza Express have issued me with a contract? I have it right here."

As the sceptical panel examined this document (a letter), he elaborated: "I’m not saying that Pizza Express contract is a contract. I may have used that terminology." Out he went, with the words of a female dragon ringing in his ears: "The most important rule for me in business is to work with people I like. And I’m afraid I don’t like you."

The dragons didn’t like anybody much, describing their ideas as "crazy", "ridiculous" and "dreamland". I knew the girl shown greeting at the start would be Scotch. Emma and Joanne wanted 60,000 to open a boutique for style-obsessed Glaswegians. Emma explained: "The clothes are completely different from what you get." I see. Only Duncan showed interest, doubtless out of Weegie solidarity, but, in the end, the gals got diddly.

The only person who got anything was a former investment banker who’d already won a bona fide contract from London Underground for his umbrella vending machines. Even then, only two dragons backed him, and they ended up squabbling. Po-faced Peter Jones was furious with Duncan for screwing a better deal out of the brolly man. "You’ve just completely been a sly little shit," he explained, leaving us to wonder how he’d made 300 million with such a poor grasp of market values.

Life has often been cheap in London’s Spitalfields, where Jack the Ripper used to eviscerate at will. Such an unprepossessing name, too, though we learned in Divine Designs that the "spital" comes from "hospital" and not mucus. (Houndsditch next door was where dead dogs were flung).

The chap telling us this was Dr Paul Binksi, a decent enough presenter, if a bit low-key. His new shirt still bore its fold-lines, and he looked the sort of person who jogs. He took us through Spitalfields’ history, architecture and transformation. Glassy, commercial offices stand where, once, prostitutes plied their trade. Everyone’s still doing the business.

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