The first episode of season four of BBC1's The Apprentice earned a record number of viewers last night, unofficial overnight figures have shown.

More than 6.4 million viewers tuned in to watch Sir Alan Sugar fire the first hopeful trying to win a £100,000 job at one of his companies.

The 25 per cent audience share was two million up on the opener for series three last year, which was the first season of The Apprentice to be aired on BBC1 as opposed to BBC2.

In comparison Grand Designs on Channel 4 earned 3.1 million viewers, while 2.2 million and 1.7 million watched ITV1's Rock Rivals and Extraordinary People: The Man with No Face on Five respectively.

The Apprentice's record viewer haul came despite the attraction of live international football on Sky Sports 1 as England played France in Paris with David Beckham winning his 100th cap.

But The Apprentice is already over for one hopeful. Trainee barrister Nicholas De Lacy Brown received his marching orders after playing a major role in the debacle that was the boys' team managing to spend all day selling fresh fish for just a £32 profit.

He sealed his fate in the boardroom by claiming the team had been split into two camps of "educated" and non-educated candidates.

"I feel a mixture of disappointment at being the first to go and relief to be out of there," the 23-year-old said afterwards.

"I am glad to have saved my reputation which I will need to become a lawyer.

"Sir Alan and I were like chalk and cheese and I felt like a fish out of water if you'll excuse the pun."

27/03/2008 13:40:39