"When I was three, I wanted to be four. When I was four, I wanted to be prime minister." -- Jeffrey Archer
Jeffrey Howard Archer, Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare (born 15 April 1940) is an English author and former politician.
Alongside his literary work, Archer was a Member of Parliament (1969–74), deputy chairman of the Conservative Party (1985–86) and was made a life peer in 1992. Having suffered several controversies, his political career ended with his conviction and subsequent imprisonment (2001–03) for perjury and perverting the course of justice.
"Actually, Sydney is my second favourite city on earth, I love Sydney, but this is the greatest.""And I did wonder - because it's now three years ago since I left prison - whether there would come a time when I would forget it, or it would be in the past as anything else might be - no, it's there every day of my life.""At the end of my trial, I was rather hoping the judge would send me to Australia for the rest of my life.""But I certainly made mistakes, for which I regret, I think most human beings in their lifetime make mistakes, mine ended up in two years prison - two very remarkable years from which I learnt a lot.""But the thing I felt most strongly about, and put at the end of one of the prison diaries, was education.""Exclusive will not be published in book format.""I am currently doing about 30 charity auctions a year.""I do greatly admire Australian artists.""I feel I have had a very interesting life, but I am rather hoping there is still more to come. I still haven't captained the England cricket team, or sung at Carnegie Hall!""I learnt a lot about myself, I learnt a lot about other people and the problems they have. If I was lucky enough to live to a hundred, how I will feel about two per cent of my life being that way, I don't know.""I spent my first three weeks there on a wing with 21 murderers. I met some very evil people there but also some men who'd had no upbringing, no chance in life.""I think my attitude to human beings has changed since leaving prison.""I think when you've lost an election by 179, there's going to be a period of time after eighteen years in government when you can't do anything right, and people just kick you for the sake of it, will never admit they voted Conservative.""I was allowed to ring the bell for five minutes until everyone was in assembly. It was the beginning of power.""I wrote a million words in the first year, and I could never have done that outside of prison.""I'm not involved in politics any more and they're quite right.""I'm not taking any interest in politics. I'm not involved in politics in any way. My life is in writing now.""I'm passionate again about writing. This is important to me; it's got to be the comeback book.""I've been doing nineteen hours a day on London, nothing else, I mean this has been my whole life, and writing has been put on one side, and if I'm privileged enough to be the Mayor of this city, then I will not write again.""I've loved art for more than 30 years.""Sixty per cent of people entering prison today are illiterate.""We all make mistakes but one has to move on.""We go on a lot in this country about offences being caused by drugs. The truth is just as many offences are caused by drink. And that should be taken into account.""Well I certainly have learned and I hope I'm moving on and certainly two years of prison was a terrible punishment.""Well I think after leaving prison, and having written three diaries about life in prison, it became a sort of a new challenge to write another novel, to write a new novel.""Whenever you analyse anyone who has had any success and they're in the headlines, you will find they are human and make mistakes. I'm certainly that and I've made a lot of mistakes."
Jeffrey Howard Archer was born in the City of London Maternity Hospital. He was two weeks old when his family moved to the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, where he spent most of his early life. His father, William, was sixty-four when Archer was born. He died when Archer was fifteen. In 1951, he won a scholarship to Wellington School, in Somerset (not to be confused with the public school Wellington College, which is possible from the ambiguous biography in Archer's earlier books). At this time his mother, Lola, contributed a column "Over the teacups" to the local press in Weston-super-Mare and wrote about the adventures of her son 'Tuppence'; this caused Archer to be the victim of bullying while at Wellington School.
After Archer left school passing O-levels in English Literature, Art, and History, he worked in a number of jobs, including training with the army and for the police. This lasted only for a few months, but he fared better as a Physical Education teacher; first at Vicar's Hill, a Prep School in Hampshire, and later at the more prestigious independent school Dover College in Kent. As a teacher he was popular with pupils and reported by some to have had good motivational skills.
Archer studied for three years, gaining an academic qualification in teaching awarded by the Oxford Department for Education. The course was based at Brasenose College, Oxford, although Archer was never registered as an undergraduate student of the College. There have been claims that Archer provided false evidence of his academic qualifications, for instance the apparent citing of an American institution which was actually a bodybuilding club, in gaining admission to the course. It is also alleged that he provided false statements about three non-existent A level passes and a US degree. His website includes references to his Oxford 'Principal', yet omits that he was not a full undergraduate at Oxford.
While in Oxford he was successful in athletics, competing in sprinting and hurdling. It is unclear whether he was in fact eligible to compete in Varsity matches, not being a member of the College. Television coverage survives of him making false starts in a 1964 sprint race, but despite the rules Archer was not disqualified. He gained a blue in athletics and went on to run for England once and also competed for Great Britain once. He also raised money for the then little-known charity Oxfam, obtaining the support of The Beatles in a charity fundraising drive. The band accepted his invitation to visit the senior common room of Brasenose College, where they were photographed with Archer and dons of the college, although they didn't 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.'
It was during this period that Archer met his wife, Mary Weeden, at that time studying chemistry at St Anne's College, Oxford. They married in July 1966. Mary went on to specialise in solar power.
After leaving Oxford, he continued as a charity fundraiser, working for the National Birthday Trust, a medical charity. He also began a career in politics, serving as a Conservative councillor on the Greater London Council during 1967—70.
One organisation Archer worked for, the United Nations Association, alleged discrepancies in his claims for expenses, and details appeared in the press in a scrambled form. Archer brought a defamation action against the former Conservative member of parliament Humphry Berkeley, chairman of the UNA, as the source of the allegations. The case was settled out of court after three years. Berkeley tried to persuade Conservative Central Office that Archer was unsuitable as a parliamentary candidate, but a selection meeting at Louth disregarded any doubts.
Archer set up his own fund-raising company, Arrow Enterprises, in 1969. That same year he opened an art gallery, the Archer Gallery, in Mayfair. The gallery specialised in modern art, including pieces by the acclaimed sculptor and painter Leon Underwood. The gallery ultimately lost money, however, and Archer sold it two years later.
Member of Parliament
At 29, he was elected as 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. Archer beat Ian Gow to the selection after winning over a substantial proportion of younger members at the selection meeting. Archer's campaign colour was a dayglo orange/pink with a blue arrow; the political parties in Lincolnshire had not yet abandoned local colours, which were different from the party national colours.
Louth constituency had three key areas: Louth, Cleethorpes, and Immingham. During his time as a Member of Parliament, Archer was a regular at the Immingham Conservative Club in the most working-class part of the constituency.
In Parliament, Archer was on the left of the Conservative Party, rebelling against some of his party's policies. He urged free TV licences for the elderly and was against museum charges. Archer voted against restoring capital punishment, saying it was barbaric and obscene. In 1971, he employed David Mellor, then needing money for his bar finals, to deal with his correspondence. He tipped Mellor to reach the cabinet. In an interview 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."
In 1974, he was a casualty of a fraudulent investment scheme involving Aquablast, a Canadian company, a debacle which lost Archer his first fortune. Fearing imminent bankruptcy, he stood down as an MP at the October 1974 general election. By this time the Archers were living in a large five-bedroom house in The Boltons, an exclusive street in South Kensington. As a result of the Aquablast affair, they were forced to sell the house and move into more modest accommodation for a while.
Archer remained president of Immingham Conservative Party until he withdrew from the 2000 election for Mayor of London in 1999. Archer is considered a local celebrity by people of Immingham who were around when he was their Member of Parliament (although Archer has no family or business connection with the area). His rare visits to northern Lincolnshire attract considerable local public interest.
His first book, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, was picked up by the literary agent Deborah Owen and published first in the US, then eventually in Britain in the Autumn of 1976. The book was an instant success and Archer avoided bankruptcy, never being legally declared bankrupt. A BBC Television adaptation of the book was broadcast in 1990, and a radio adaptation was aired on BBC Radio 4 in the early 1980s. While he was a witness in the Aquablast case in Toronto in 1977, Archer was accused of taking three suits from a department store, an accusation he denied for many years. However, in the late 1990s, Archer finally acknowledged that he had indeed taken the suits, although he claimed that at the time he hadn't realised he had left the shop. No charges were brought.
Kane and Abel proved to be his best-selling work, reaching number one on the New York Times bestsellers list. 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 ten-part adaptation of another Archer bestseller, First Among Equals, which told the story of four men and their quest to become Prime Minister.
Archer states to spend 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 seventeen further drafts. It has been suggested that his books require extensive editing by others to make them readable.
In 1979, Archer purchased the Old Vicarage, Grantchester, a house associated with the poet Rupert Brooke. He also began to hold shepherd's pie and Krug parties for prominent people at his London apartment, which overlooks the Houses of Parliament.
Archer's political career revived once he became known for his novels and as a popular speaker among the Conservative grassroots. He was made 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. 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. 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, suggesting that his words had been "taken out of context".
Archer resigned 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.
Daily Star libel case
Compounding on this story, the Daily Star alleged that Archer had slept with Coghlan. Archer responded by suing the Daily Star. 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. Archer stated he would donate the money to charity. This case would ultimately result in Archer's final exit from front-line politics some years later.
There was astonishment at the description the judge (Mr Justice Caulfield) gave of Mrs Archer in his jury instructions: "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?" By this time, according to the journalist Adam Raphael, Jeffrey and Mary Archer were, in fact, 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.
Archer lost a libel case after accusations in his book Twist in the Tale, portraying Major General James Oluleye to be a thief. (Oluleye is the author of "Architecturing a Destiny" and "Military Leadership in Nigeria".)
Kurdish charity and peerage
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." 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. The charity would later result in further controversy.
Having been previously rejected, Archer was made a life peer in 1992 as Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare, of Mark in the County of Somerset. Prime minister John Major recommended him largely because of Archer's role in aid to the Kurds.
Political statements in 1990s
In a speech at the 1993 Conservative conference, Archer urged the 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. On Question Time in February 1994, Archer stated that 18 should be the age of consent for homosexuality, as opposed to 21, which it was at the time. Archer has also consistently been an opponent of a return to capital punishment.
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. The arrangements he made with the stockbrokers, meant he did not have to pay at the time of buying the shares.
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. Archer later claimed that he had been "exonerated", but the DTI inquiry had merely stated that there was insufficient evidence to bring a prosecution.
London Mayoral candidacy and allegations of perjury
In 1999, Archer had been selected by the Conservative Party as candidate for the London mayoral election of 2000, when, on 21 November 1999, the News of the World published allegations that he had committed perjury in his 1987 libel case. Archer withdrew his candidacy the following day.
The basis of the allegations originated with Ted Francis, a friend who claimed Archer owed him money, and Angela Peppiatt, Archer's former personal assistant. They stated that Archer had fabricated an alibi in the 1987 trial and were concerned that Archer was unsuitable to stand as Mayor of London. Peppiatt had kept a diary of Archer's movements, which contradicted evidence given during the 1987 trial.
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." On 4 February 2000, Archer was expelled from the party for five years.
On 26 September 2000, he was charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice during the 1987 libel trial. Simultaneously, Archer starred in a production of his 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.
The perjury trial began on 30 May 2001, a month after Monica Coghlan's death. Archer never spoke during the trial, though his wife Mary again gave evidence as she had done during the 1987 trial. When Archer's mother died on 11 July, aged 87, he was released for the day to attend the funeral. 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. Ted Francis was found not guilty of perverting the course of justice.
Archer was 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 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 North Sea Camp, an open prison, in October 2001. From there he was let out to work at the Theatre Royal in Lincoln, England, and was allowed occasional home visits. Media reports claimed he had been abusing this privilege by attending lunches with friends, including former Education Secretary Gillian Shephard and in September 2002 he was transferred to a Category "B" prison, Lincoln, for a month, before returning to a Category "D" prison, Hollesley Bay in Suffolk.
While in prison, he wrote the three-volume memoir A Prison Diary, with volumes fashioned after Dante's Divine Comedy and named the first three prisons he was kept in. During his imprisonment, Archer was visited by a number of high-profile friends, including the actor Donald Sinden and the performer Barry Humphries.
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. That month, he was suspended from Marylebone Cricket Club for seven years.
On 21 July 2003, Archer was released on licence, after serving half of his sentence, from HMP Hollesley Bay, Suffolk.
Kurdish aid controversy
In July 2001, shortly after being jailed for perjury, Archer's name was again shrouded in controversy, when Scotland Yard began investigating allegations that millions of pounds had disappeared from Archer's Kurdish charity. In 1991, Archer had claimed to have raised £57,042,000. 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. Archer then had gone to Iraq on a fact-finding mission, where his chant of "Long Live Kurdistan" was mis-translated as "Bastard, Devilish Kurdistan."
A British Red Cross-commissioned KPMG audit of the cash showed no donations were handled by Archer and any misappropriation was "unlikely". But KPMG 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.
Many of Archer's friends remained loyal. He and Lady Archer were guests at the memorial service for Norris McWhirter at Saint Martin-in-the-Fields on Thursday 7 October 2004 where they sat in the same pew as Gregory Lauder-Frost, the former head of the Conservative Monday Club, and in front of Lady Thatcher, who embraced Lady Archer.
In 2004, the government of Equatorial Guinea alleged that Archer was one of the financiers of the failed 2004 coup d'état attempt against them, citing bank details and telephone records as evidence.
On 26 February 2006, on Andrew Marr's Sunday AM programme, Archer said he had no interest in returning to front-line politics: he would pursue his writing instead. He has confirmed this when speaking at the Emmanuel College Politics Society and the Christ's Politics Society at the University of Cambridge.
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), which received strong reviews. Script writer 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".
In November 2004 Archer was the subject of a Gilbert and Sullivan-style spoof in the BBC series, "15 Minute Musical".
In There's No Place Like a Home, a comedy play by Paul Elliot, the residents of a retirement home for actors and actresses, trying to prevent its closure, kidnap Archer to use the ransom money to keep their home open.
The satirical magazine Private Eye refers to Archer as 'Jeffrey Archole' or 'Lord Archole' and characterises him as a liar and fantasist. On occasion it has published spoofs of Archer's fiction, describing a thinly-veiled heroic version of himself called 'Jeremy Bowman'.