Jeffrey Archer

Jeffrey Howard Archer, Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare (born 15 April 1940)[1] is an English novelist, former politician, convicted perjurer, and peer of the realm. Before becoming an author, Archer was a Member of Parliament (1969–1974), but did not seek re-election after a financial scandal that left him almost bankrupt.[2] He revived his fortunes as a best-selling novelist; his books have sold more than 320 million copies worldwide.[3]

Archer became deputy chairman of the Conservative Party (1985–86), before resigning after a newspaper accused him of paying money to a prostitute. In 1987, he won a court case and was awarded large damages because of this claim.[4] He was made a life peer in 1992 and subsequently became Conservative candidate to be the first elected Mayor of London. He had to resign his candidacy in 1999 after it emerged that he had lied in his 1987 libel case. He was imprisoned (2001–2003) for perjury and perverting the course of justice, ending his elected political career.[3]

Jeffrey Howard Archer was born in the City of London Maternity Hospital in Holloway, London on 15 April 1940.[5] He was two weeks old when his family moved to Somerset, eventually settling in the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare,[6] where Archer spent most of his early life.[7] His father, William (died 1956),[8] was 64 years old when Jeffrey Archer was born. Early in his career, Archer gave conflicting accounts to the press of his father's supposed, but non-existent, military career.[7] William Archer was, in fact, a bigamist, fraudster, and conman, who impersonated another William Archer, a deceased war medal holder. He was at different times employed as a chewing gum salesman in New York and a mortgage broker in London. In the latter capacity, he was charged at the Old Bailey for a series of fraud offences. On being allowed bail, he absconded to America under the name William Grimwood. In America, William Archer fathered a child Rosemary, who was thereby Jeffrey’s half-sister. In 1940 Rosemary married the famous lawyer Brien McMahon who went on to become the Democratic senator for Connecticut (1945-52) and a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952. After Brien McMahon’s death that year, Rosemary married, in 1953, the Belgian ambassador to Washington Baron Silvercruys, and the First Lady, Mamie Eisenhower, was the guest-of-honour at their wedding. [9][10][11] As a boy Archer dreamt about being captain of Bristol Rovers Football Club, and is still a fan of the club.[12]

In 1951, Archer won a scholarship to Wellington School in Somerset, not Wellington College in Berkshire, as he was later inclined to claim.[8] At this time his mother, Lola, was employed as a journalist on Weston's local newspaper, the Weston Mercury.[13] She wrote a weekly column entitled "Over the Teacups", and frequently wrote about Jeffrey, calling him 'Tuppence'.[14] Although Archer enjoyed the local fame this brought him, it caused him to be the victim of bullying while at Wellington School.[4]

Archer left school with O-levels in English literature, art and history. He then spent a few years in a variety of jobs, including training with the army and a short period with the Metropolitan Police.[4] He later worked as a physical education teacher, first at Vicar's Hill, a preparatory school in Hampshire, and later at Dover College in Kent.[7]

In 1963 Archer was offered a place at the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education to study for a Diploma of Education. The course was based in the department, and Archer became a member of Brasenose College. There have been claims that Archer provided false evidence of his academic qualifications to Brasenose College, for instance, the apparent citing of an American institution which was actually a bodybuilding club, in gaining admission to the course.[4][15] It has also been alleged Archer provided false statements about three non-existent A-level passes and a U.S. university degree.[13] Although the diploma course only lasted a year, Archer spent a total of three years at Oxford.[4] The reasons for this are unclear.

At Oxford, Archer was successful in athletics, competing in sprinting and hurdling, and became president of the Oxford University Athletic Club.[4] Television coverage survives of him making false starts in a 1964 sprint race, but he was not disqualified. He gained a blue in athletics and went on to run for England, and once successfully competed for Great Britain.[13]

Even as a student Jeffrey Archer was plagued with rumours of financial wrongdoing — fellow undergraduates were amazed that he owned houses and cars with personalised number plates while working part time as an Oxfam fund raiser.[16]

Archer raised money for the charity Oxfam, obtaining the support of The Beatles in a charity fundraising drive. The band accepted his invitation to visit the Principal's lodge at Brasenose College, where they were photographed with Archer and dons of the college,[17] although they did not play there. The critic Sheridan Morley, then a student at Merton, was present and recalled the occasion:

At the interval I went to the toilet, and there beside me was Ringo Starr. He asked if I knew this Jeffrey Archer bloke. I said everyone in Oxford was trying to work out who he was. Ringo said: 'He strikes me as a nice enough fella, but he's the kind of bloke who would bottle your piss and sell it.'[5]

After leaving Oxford, Archer continued as a charity fundraiser, initially working for the National Birthday Trust,[18] a medical charity that promoted safe childbirth, before joining the United Nations Association (UNA) as its chief fundraiser. The then chairman of the UNA, Humphry Berkeley, alleged that there were numerous discrepancies in Archer's expense claims whilst he worked at the UNA.[5][19]

Around this time, Archer began a career in politics, serving as a Conservative councillor on the Greater London Council (1967–1970).[13]

Archer set up his own fundraising and public relations company, Arrow Enterprises, in 1969.[20] That same year he opened an art gallery, the Archer Gallery, in Mayfair. The gallery specialised in modern art, including pieces by the sculptor and painter Leon Underwood. The gallery ultimately lost money, however, and Archer sold it two years later.[21]

At 29, Archer was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for the Lincolnshire constituency of Louth, holding the seat for the Conservative Party in a by-election on 4 December 1969.[13] Archer beat Ian Gow to the selection after winning over a substantial proportion of younger members at the selection meeting. The national party had concerns about Archer's selection, specifically relating to the UNA expenses allegations made by Humphry Berkeley, himself a former Conservative MP. Berkeley tried to persuade Conservative Central Office that Archer was unsuitable as a parliamentary candidate.[19] However, Archer brought a defamation action against Berkeley and the story was kept out of the press, although a truncated version of the story did appear in The Times.[4] The case was eventually settled out of court, with Archer agreeing to pay the legal costs of around £30,000.[22]

Louth constituency had three key areas: Louth, Cleethorpes, and Immingham. During his time as an MP, Archer was a regular at the Immingham Conservative Club in the most working-class part of the constituency. In 1970 he took part in the Kennedy Memorial Test, a 50-mile running/walking race from Louth to Skegness and back.[23]

In parliament, Archer was on the left of the Conservative Party, rebelling against some of his party's policies. He advocated free TV licences for elderly people and was against museum entrance charges.[24] In 1971, he employed David Mellor to deal with his correspondence. He tipped Mellor to reach the cabinet. In an interview, in February 1999 Archer said, "I hope we don't return to extremes. I'm what you might call centre-right but I've always disliked the right wing as much as I've disliked the left wing."[25]

In 1974, Archer was a casualty of a fraudulent investment scheme involving a Canadian company called Aquablast. The debacle lost him his first fortune and left him almost £500,000 in debt.[4] Fearing imminent bankruptcy, he stood down as an MP at the October 1974 general election.

While he was a witness in the Aquablast case in Toronto in 1975, Archer was accused of stealing three suits from a department store.[26] Archer denied the accusation for many years, but in the late 1990s he finally acknowledged that he had taken the suits, although he claimed that at the time he had not realised he had left the shop.[4] No charges were ever brought.

Archer wrote his first book, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, in the autumn of 1974, as a means of avoiding bankruptcy.[5] The book was picked up by the literary agent Deborah Owen and published first in the U.S., then eventually in Britain in the autumn of 1976. A radio adaptation was aired on BBC Radio 4 in the early 1980s and a BBC Television adaptation of the book was broadcast in 1990.[27]

Kane and Abel (1979) proved to be his best-selling work, reaching number one on The New York Times bestsellers list. Like most of his early work it was edited by Richard Cohen, the Olympic fencing gold-medallist.[18] It was made into a television mini-series by CBS in 1985, starring Peter Strauss and Sam Neill. The following year, Granada TV screened a 10-part adaptation of another Archer bestseller, First Among Equals, which told the story of four men and their quest to become Prime Minister. In the U.S. edition of the novel, the character of Andrew Fraser was eliminated, reducing the number of protagonists to three.[28]

As well as novels and short stories, Archer has also written three stage plays. The first, Beyond Reasonable Doubt, opened in 1987 and ran at the Queen's Theatre in London's West End for over a year.[29] However, Archer's next play, Exclusive, was not well received by critics, and closed after a few weeks. His final play, The Accused, opened at the Theatre Royal, Windsor on 26 September 2000, before transferring to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in the West End in December.[30]

In 1988 author Kathleen Burnett accused Archer of plagiarising a story she'd written and including it in his short-story collection, A Twist in the Tale. Archer denied he had plagiarised the story, claiming he'd simply been inspired by the idea.[31]

Whilst Archer's books are commercially successful, critics have been generally unfavourable towards his writing.[32] However, journalist Hugo Barnacle, writing for The Independent about The Fourth Estate (1996), thought the novel, while demonstrating that "the editors don't seem to have done any work", was "not wholly unsatisfactory".[33]

Archer has said that he spends considerable time writing and re-writing each book. He goes abroad to write the first draft, working in blocks of two hours at a time, then writes anything up to 17 drafts in total.[34] Since 2010, Archer has written the first draft of each new book at his luxury villa in Majorca, called "Writer's Block".[35]

In 2011, Archer published the first of seven books in The Clifton Chronicles series, which follow the life of Harry Clifton from his birth in 1920, through to his funeral in 1993. The first novel in the series, Only Time Will Tell, tells the story of Harry from 1920 through to 1940, and was published in the UK on 12 May 2011.[3] The seventh and final novel in the series, This Was a Man, was published on 3 November 2016.[36]

The Short, the Long and the Tall, an illustrated collection of Archer's short stories, was published in November 2020, with watercolour illustrations by artist Paul Cox.[37]

Archer's latest novel, Turn a Blind Eye, was published in April 2021, and is the third book in a new series featuring detective William Warwick.[38]

In January 2020 it was reported that Archer had sued his former literary agents, Curtis Brown, for £500,000 in unpaid royalties.[39]

Archer's political career revived in the 1980s, and he became a popular speaker among the Conservative grassroots. He was appointed deputy chairman of the Conservative Party by Margaret Thatcher in September 1985. Norman Tebbit, party chairman, had misgivings over the appointment, as did other prominent members of the party, including William Whitelaw and Ted Heath.[13] During his tenure as deputy chairman, Archer was responsible for a number of embarrassing moments, including his statement, made during a live radio interview, that many young, unemployed people were simply unwilling to find work.[7] At the time of Archer's comment, unemployment in the UK stood at a record 3.4 million. Archer was later forced to apologise for the remark, saying that his words had been "taken out of context". Archer resigned as deputy chairman in October 1986 due to a scandal caused by an article in The News of the World, which led on the story "Tory boss Archer pays vice-girl" and claimed Archer had paid Monica Coghlan, a prostitute, £2,000 through an intermediary at Victoria Station to go abroad.[4]

Shortly after The News of the World story broke, rival tabloid the Daily Star ran a story alleging Archer had paid for sex with Coghlan, something The News of the World had been careful to avoid stating directly.[4] Archer responded by suing the Daily Star.[40] The case came to court in July 1987. Explaining the payment to Coghlan as the action of a philanthropist rather than that of a guilty man, Archer won the case and was awarded £500,000 damages.[41] Archer stated he would donate the money to charity.[42] However, this case would ultimately result in Archer's final exit from front-line politics some years later. The description the judge (Mr Justice Caulfield) gave of Mrs Archer in his jury instructions included: "Remember Mary Archer in the witness-box. Your vision of her probably will never disappear. Has she elegance? Has she fragrance? Would she have, without the strain of this trial, radiance? How would she appeal? Has she had a happy married life? Has she been able to enjoy, rather than endure, her husband Jeffrey?" The judge then went on to say of Jeffrey Archer, "Is he in need of cold, unloving, rubber-insulated sex in a seedy hotel round about quarter to one on a Tuesday morning after an evening at the Caprice?"[43]

Although the Archers claimed they were a normal, happily-married couple, by this time, according to the journalist Adam Raphael, Jeffrey and Mary Archer were living largely separate lives. The editor of the Daily Star, Lloyd Turner, was sacked six weeks after the trial by the paper's owner Lord Stevens of Ludgate.[44] Adam Raphael soon afterwards found proof that Archer had perjured himself at the trial, but his superiors were unwilling to take the risk of a potentially costly libel case.[45] The News of the World later settled out-of-court with Archer, acknowledging they, too, had libelled him.[41]

When Saddam Hussein suppressed Kurdish uprisings in 1991, Archer, with the Red Cross, set up the charity Simple Truth, a fundraising campaign on behalf of the Kurds.[46] In May 1991, Archer organised a charity pop concert, starring Rod Stewart, Paul Simon, Sting and Gloria Estefan, who all performed for free. Archer claimed that his charity had raised £57,042,000, though it was later revealed that only £3 million came from the Simple Truth concert and appeal, the rest from aid projects sponsored by the British and other governments, with significant amounts pledged before the concert.[46] The charity would later result in further controversy. Having been previously rejected,[46] Archer was made a life peer on 27 July 1992 as Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare, of Mark in the County of Somerset.[47] Prime Minister John Major recommended him largely because of Archer's role in aid to the Kurds.[46] Archer and Major had been friends for a number of years.[48]

In a speech at the 1993 Conservative conference, Archer urged then Home Secretary Michael Howard, to "Stand and deliver," saying: "Michael, I am sick and tired of being told by old people that they are frightened to open the door, they're frightened to go out at night, frightened to use the parks and byways where their parents and grandparents walked with freedom ... We say to you: stand and deliver!". He then attacked violent films and urged tougher prison conditions to prevent criminals from re-offending. He criticised the role of "do-gooders" and finished off the speech by denouncing the opposition party's law and order policies.[49] This was a time when Archer was actively seeking another front-line political role.[50]

On Question Time on 20 January 1994,[51] Archer said that 18 should be the age of consent for gay sex, as opposed to 21, which it was at the time.[52] Archer though was opposed to the age of consent for gay men being 16.[53] Historian David Starkey was on the same edition, and said of Archer: "Englishmen like you enjoy sitting on the fence so much because you enjoy the sensation."[52][53] Archer has also consistently been an opponent of a return to capital punishment.[54]

In January 1994, Mary Archer, then a director of Anglia Television, attended a directors' meeting at which an impending takeover of Anglia Television by MAI, which owned Meridian Broadcasting, was discussed. The following day, Jeffrey Archer bought 50,000 shares in Anglia Television, acting on behalf of a friend, Broosk Saib. Shortly after this, it was announced publicly that Anglia Television would be taken over by MAI. As a result, the shares jumped in value, whereupon Archer sold them on behalf of his friend for a profit of £77,219.[29] The arrangements he made with the stockbrokers meant he did not have to pay at the time of buying the shares.[44]

An inquiry was launched by the Stock Exchange into possible insider trading. The Department of Trade and Industry, headed by Michael Heseltine, announced that Archer would not be prosecuted due to insufficient evidence. His solicitors admitted that he had made a mistake, but Archer later said that he had been exonerated.[29]

In 1999, Archer had been selected by the Conservative Party as candidate for the London mayoral election of 2000, with the support of two former Prime Ministers, Baroness Thatcher and John Major.[55] Eight Conservative ex-Cabinet Ministers who had been in office during the Thatcher and Major governments wrote to The Daily Telegraph in support of Archer's candidature.[55] However, on 21 November 1999 the News of the World published allegations made by Ted Francis, a former friend of Archer's, that Archer had committed perjury in his 1987 libel case. Archer withdrew his candidature the following day.[56] After the allegations, Archer was disowned by his party. Conservative leader William Hague explained: "This is the end of politics for Jeffrey Archer. I will not tolerate such behaviour in my party."[57] On 4 February 2000, Archer was expelled from the party for five years.[56]

On 26 September 2000, Archer was charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice during the 1987 libel trial.[58] Ted Francis was charged with perverting the course of justice.[56] Simultaneously, Archer starred in a production of his own courtroom play The Accused, staged at London's Theatre Royal Haymarket. The play concerned the court trial of an alleged murderer and assigned the role of jury to the audience, which would vote on the guilt of Archer's character at the end of each performance.[59]

The perjury trial began on 30 May 2001, a month after Monica Coghlan's death in a road traffic collision.[60] Ted Francis claimed that Archer had asked him to provide a false alibi for the night Archer was alleged to have been with Monica Coghlan.[58] Angela Peppiatt, Archer's former personal assistant, also claimed Archer had fabricated an alibi in the 1987 trial. Peppiatt had kept a diary of Archer's movements, which contradicted evidence given during the 1987 trial.[61] Andrina Colquhoun, Archer's former mistress, confirmed that they had been having an affair in the 1980s, thus contradicting the claim that he and Mary Archer had been "happily married" at the time of the trial.[62]

Archer never spoke during the trial, though his wife Mary again gave evidence as she had done during the 1987 trial.[63] On 19 July 2001, Archer was found guilty of perjury and perverting the course of justice at the 1987 trial. He was sentenced to four years' imprisonment by Mr Justice Potts.[64] Francis was found not guilty. Prominent journalists admitted to having accepted Archer's hospitality after he was convicted.[65][66] Archer's mother had died shortly before he was sentenced and he was released for the day to attend her funeral.[67][68]

Archer was initially sent to Belmarsh Prison, a Category "A" prison, but was moved to Wayland Prison, a Category "C" prison in Norfolk, on 9 August 2001. Despite automatically qualifying as a category "D" prisoner given it was a first conviction and he did not pose a serious risk of harm to the public, his status as such was suspended pending a police investigation into allegations about his Kurdish charity. He was then transferred to HM Prison North Sea Camp, an open prison, in October 2001. From there he was let out to work at the Theatre Royal in Lincoln, and allowed occasional home visits.[69]

Media reports claimed he had been abusing this privilege by attending lunches with friends, including former Education Secretary Gillian Shephard.[70] In September 2002 he was transferred to a Category "B" prison, Lincoln.[71] After three weeks, he was moved to the Category "D" HM Prison Hollesley Bay in Suffolk.[72]

During his imprisonment, Archer was visited by a number of high-profile friends, including actor Donald Sinden[73] and entertainer Barry Humphries (who performs as Dame Edna Everage).[74]

In October 2002, Archer repaid the Daily Star the £500,000 damages he had received in 1987, as well as legal costs and interest of £1.3 million.[75] That month, he was suspended from Marylebone Cricket Club for seven years.[76]

On 21 July 2003, Archer was released on licence from Hollesley Bay after serving half of his sentence.[77] He remained a peer, there being no legal provision through which it could be removed other than passing a new Act of Parliament.[78] He also retained membership of the House of Lords, which did not then have the power to expel members; however, Archer has not taken an active part in the proceedings of the House. Politically he is a non-affiliated member.[79]

While in prison, Archer wrote the three-volume memoir A Prison Diary, with volumes fashioned after Dante's Divine Comedy and named after the first three prisons in which he was kept.[80] His prison term also served as inspiration for nine of the 12 short stories in the collection, Cat O' Nine Tales.[81]

In July 2001, shortly after Archer was jailed for perjury, Scotland Yard began investigating allegations that millions of pounds had disappeared from his Kurdish charity.[46][82] In 1991, Archer had claimed to have raised £57,042,000.[46] In 1992, the Kurdish Disaster Fund had written to Archer, complaining: "You must be concerned that the Kurdish refugees have seen hardly any of the huge sums raised in the west in their name." Kurdish groups claimed little more than £250,000 had been received by groups in Iraq.[46]

A British Red Cross-commissioned KPMG audit of the cash showed no donations were handled by Archer and any misappropriation was "unlikely", however KPMG also could find no evidence to support Archer's claims to have raised £31.5 million from overseas governments. The police said they would launch a "preliminary assessment of the facts" from the audit but were not investigating the Simple Truth fund.[83]

In 2004, the government of Equatorial Guinea alleged that Archer was one of the financiers of the failed 2004 coup d'état attempt against it, citing bank details and telephone records as evidence.[84] In 2009, Archer said: "I am completely relaxed about it. Mr Mann [Simon Mann, the English mercenary leader of the coup] has made clear that it's nothing to do with me." In 2011, Mann, imprisoned in Equatorial Guinea for his role in leading the failed 2004 coup d'état but released on humanitarian grounds later, told The Daily Telegraph that his forthcoming book, Cry Havoc, would reveal "the financial involvement of a controversial and internationally famous member of the British House of Lords in the plot, backed up by banking records." He claimed documents from the bank accounts in Guernsey of two companies Mann used as vehicles for organising the coup, showed a 'J H Archer' paying $135,000 into one of the firms.[85]

Archer has been married to Mary Weeden since July 1966.[13] They met at Oxford University, where Weeden was studying chemistry at St Anne's College.[86] She went on to specialise in solar power.[87]

They have two children: William Archer (born 1972), a theatrical producer,[88] and James Archer (born 1974), a financial adviser and businessman.

In 1979 the Archers purchased the Old Vicarage, Grantchester,[89] a house associated with the poet Rupert Brooke. Every summer, they host a lavish garden party in the grounds to celebrate their wedding anniversary.[90] By the early 1980s Archer was back in a comfortable financial position and began to hold shepherd's pie and Krug parties for prominent people at his London penthouse, which overlooks the River Thames and the Houses of Parliament.[4][19]

On 26 February 2006, on Andrew Marr's Sunday AM programme, Archer said he had no interest in returning to front-line politics and would pursue his writing instead.[91]

Archer was satirically portrayed as a misunderstood secret agent, saviour of Britain and mankind and "overall thoroughly good chap", by actor Damian Lewis in the BBC drama Jeffrey Archer: The Truth (2002).[92] Scriptwriter Guy Jenkin explained that "my Jeffrey Archer is the man who has frequently saved Britain over the last 30 years. He's beloved of all women he comes across, all men, all dogs — he's a superhero."[92]

In the Amazon series Good Omens a reference is made by one of the angels in Aziraphale's bookshop, "Something smells evil." Aziraphale replies, "Oh, that would be the Jeffrey Archer books, I'm afraid."


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