Jeffrey Archer, Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare

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Jeffrey Howard Archer, Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare (born 15 April 1940) is the author of a number of books, has raised considerable sums for charities, is a former MP and was Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, and was later convicted of perjury.



There has been much confusion over the details of Archer's life and there is evidence that he has exploited ambiguities or else fabricated details on many occasions.

Early life

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. He attended Wellington School, Somerset (and not as some have claimed he liked to imply, the more prestigious Wellington College, Berkshire). After leaving school with few qualifications, he worked in a number of jobs, including training with the Army and the Police, 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 no success. He also began a career in politics, serving as a councillor on the Greater London Council. 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. His first book, 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 work, reaching number 1 on the New York Times bestsellers list. It was made into a television miniseries. Archer purchased the Old Vicarage, Grantchester, a house associated with the poet Rupert Brooke.

In 1976 Archer was caught stealing coats from a store in Toronto, Canada, although no charges were made. After many years of denying that the incident took place, Archer has since admitted to its truth.

Archer's political career revived once he became well known for his writing. 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. William Hague, then leader of the Conservative Party, publicly supported him and rejected doubts about his suitability in the light of his previous career. He was forced to withdraw from the race when it was revealed that he was facing a charge of perjury (see below). Throughout his later career he was investigated by the journalist Michael Crick, who has become semi-famous as Archer's unofficial biographer and nemesis.


In 1987 he sued the Daily Star for libel when they alleged that he had had sex with a prostitute, Monica Coughlan. He won the case and was awarded 500,000 damages, but not everyone was convinced by the verdict. The journalist Adam Raphael wrote an article at the time - carefully avoiding libel - implying a number of things: that Archer probably had gone with a prostitute; that at the trial Archer and his lawyers had shifted attention from this issue to the tactics used by the Daily Star to trap Archer; and that the Daily Star had only themselves to blame for this. There was also widespread amusement caused by the description by the judge (Mr Justice Caulfield) of Mrs Archer: "Has she not grace? Has she not fragrance?". (His implication was that Archer had no need of a prostitute when he had such a lovely wife.)

Some years later a friend (to whom he had loaned a considerable sum of money and who was refusing to repay) and Archer's former personal assistant (whom Archer had been semi-maintaining) then claimed that he had fabricated an alibi in that case. They were concerned that Archer was standing as Mayor of London and doubted that he was suitable for the post. The personal secretary had apparently kept a secret diary of Archer's movements. Archer was put on trial for perjury and perverting the course of justice. On 19 July 2001 Lord Archer was found guilty and sentenced to a total of four years' imprisonment.

These 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 originally sent to Belmarsh, but was moved to the category C Wayland Prison in Norfolk on 9 August and to North Sea Camp, an open prison, by October 2001. From there he was let out to work at the Theatre Royal in Lincoln, and was allowed occasional home visits. Reports in the media, which showed a continuing interest in 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 argued 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 7 October 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" works (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.


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