Jeffrey Howard Archer, Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare (born April 15, 1940) is the successful author of a number of popular novels, raised considerable sums for charities, was a former MP and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, who was later convicted of perjury.
There has been much confusion over the details of Archer's life and it has been alleged that he has exploited ambiguities or else fabricated details on many occasions.
He was born in the City of London maternity hospital and most of his childhood was spent in the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare. After leaving school with few qualifications he worked in a number of jobs, including training with the Army and Police force, and working as a teacher. He gained a place at Brasenose College, Oxford to study for a one-year diploma in education, though he eventually stayed there for three years. He is not, however, an Oxford graduate.
While at Oxford he was moderately successful in athletics, competing in sprinting and hurdling. He also made a name for himself in raising money for the then little-known charity Oxfam, famously managing to obtain the support of The Beatles in a charity fundraising drive. It was during this period that he met his wife, Mary, a brilliant student who is believed by many to have had a hand in his most successful novels.
Politics and writing
After leaving university he continued as a charity fundraiser with varying success. He also began a career in politics, serving as a councillor in London. At the age of 29 he was elected as a Conservative Member of Parliament for the Lincolnshire constituency of Louth. Later, he would claim to have been the youngest MP ever, but he was not even the youngest in the House at the time.
In 1974 Archer became heavily indebted after falling victim to a fraudulent investment scheme involving Aquablast, a Canadian company. Faced with likely bankruptcy, he stood down as an MP at the October 1974 general election, and turned to writing novels. His first novel, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less was a success, and he ultimately avoided bankruptcy. Kane and Abel proved to be his best-selling novel, reaching number 1 on the New York Times bestsellers list. It was made into a successful television series. Archer's literary pretensions were consolidated by his purchase of the Old Vicarage, Grantchester, a house associated with Rupert Brooke.
Archer's political career thrived once he became well-known for his books. He was made Deputy Chairman of the Conservative party by Margaret Thatcher, created a life peer in 1992 by John Major, and was selected by the party as candidate for the London mayoral election of 2000. He was forced to withdraw from the race when it was revealed that he was facing a major court case. Throughout his later career, he was doggedly investigated (or harassed) by the journalist Michael Crick, who has become semi-famous as Archer's unofficial biographer and nemesis.
On July 19, 2001 Lord Archer was found guilty of perjury and perverting the course of justice. This was in relation to a 1987 libel case in which he was awarded £500,000 damages from the Daily Star when they alleged that he had had sex with a prostitute, Monica Coughlan. Although he won the libel case, a friend to whom he had loaned a considerable sum of money and who was refusing to repay, and Archer's former personal assistant, to whom Archer had been semi-maintaining, joined forces against him and then claimed that he had fabricated an alibi in that case. That led to his later trial and conviction for perjury. The personal secretary had apparently kept a secret diary of Archer's movements.
These subsequent events cast considerable public doubt on the verdict of the libel case. The most ironic aspect of his trial was that he had fabricated the alibi for the wrong date. He was sentenced to a total of four years' imprisonment.
He was originally sent to Belmarsh, but had moved to North Sea Camp, an open prison by October 2001, at which he was let out to work at the Theatre Royal, Lincoln in Lincoln, and occasional home visits. Reports in the media, which continued to hound him, said that he had been abusing this privilege by attending lunches with friends, and in September 2002 he was transferred to Lincoln Prison. In October 2002 it was reported that Archer had offered to repay the Daily Star the £500,000 damages he had received, as well as legal costs of the order of £1 million.
In July 2003 he was released on probation, after serving half of his sentence, from HMP Hollesley Bay, Suffolk. Recently announced government reforms will prevent convicted criminals from serving in the House of Lords and newspapers report that Archer may be stripped of his peerage and title as early as 2005. Supporters were quick to retort that many peers with far more serious convictions, such as Harold Wilson's friend, Lord Kagan, were not stripped of their titles.
Many of Lord Archer's friends remained loyal to him. He and Lady Archer were invited guests to the Memorial Service at St Martin-in-the-Fields on Thursday October 7, 2004, where they were observed sitting in the same pew as former head of the Conservative Monday Club, Gregory Lauder-Frost, and directly in front of Lady Thatcher, who made a point of embracing Lady Archer.
Themes in his work
Archer very often takes his characters from the upper classes of the UK or New England, discussing mannerisms and sensitivities from that layer of society. The majority of his works are set in the USA.
He takes considerable poetic liberty when intertwining the lives of two parallel heroes (Kane and Abel, Sons of Fortune), or the hero and villain (As the Crow Flies, First Among Equals). These works have an epic character and span a number of decades, often with parallel storylines taking an event from different perspectives. Many heroes suffer reproductive problems (As the Crow Flies), or lose their only children (First Among Equals, Sons of Fortune), adding dramatic effect.
His "non-epic" novels (A Matter of Honour, a chase story, and Shall We Tell the President?, a detective thriller) are usually set within a much shorter timeframe and have fewer characters.
Archer is widely considered a master of plot, and often anticipates plot twists several chapters ahead with subtle references.
- BBC News In Depth: The Archer trial (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/uk/2001/archer_trial/default.stm)