Lord Alan Sugar has ordered The Apprentice to “tone down” its interview round in future series, after finding this year’s episode “hard” to watch.

The BBC business reality show faced criticism this year when the contestants were reduced to tears after their gruelling grillings from Claude Littner, Mike Soutar, Linda Plant and Baroness Karren Brady, and the 75-year-old mogul admitted he agreed with the backlash.

He told The Times magazine: "I think we need to tone that down a bit. I found it hard to watch. Unfortunately, when that was recorded I wasn’t there.

"Anyway, I’m not making any excuses. When I saw it in the end I thought this is too harsh, and we’re going to tone it down now.

“I don’t think it’s entertaining. It used to be entertaining. All the previous boardroom [episode] 11s were entertaining. This one was very harsh.

“I’ve told them now. Believe me, it won’t be happening again.”

But Lord Sugar revealed Karren - who is one of the two people to advise him every week on the programme - insisted she was made to look "hard" in the edit and blamed the production company for making things seem worse than they were.

He added: "I said to Karren, ‘You are very hard.’ She said, ‘No, it was the way I was edited. I was very nice, very polite, and it was like give and take.’

"What went wrong here was the production company went bang, bang, bang — only wanted to deal with bang, bang, bang moments.”

A man hasn't won the show since 2017, when James White and Sarah Lynn were declared joint winners, and Alan believes the female contestants have proven to be more "sharp" than their male counterparts.

He said: “I don’t know. The women are focused. The women are clever. They’re sharp. The blokes weren’t. It’s as simple as that.”

And the business guru insisted he never thinks about diversity when hiring candidates.

He said: "Not really, no. I don’t care about all that. I choose the person that can get the job done best. I don’t care who they are, what they are, what they look like and where they’re from.”