Author of his own Demise
July 22, 2001
Reporter : Jim Waley
After years of dodging allegations about his colourful life and his partly invented past, Jeffrey Archer's lies have finally caught up with him. Lord Archer has been jailed for four years after being found guilty of two counts of perverting the course of justice and two of perjury. Archer has spent his first nights in a small cell in Belmarsh Prison in southeast London. It is a far cry from the luxury apartment overlooking the Thames, where Sunday host Jim Waley caught up with him a few weeks ago on the eve of the trial.
Archer was quick to rule out any remaining political ambition. It was already clear that the Conservative party, of which he was once deputy chairman, was about to be crushed in the coming election.
"The truth of the matter is that I'm 60 now," Archer said, and after the briefest of pauses: "I'm over 60." If the Labour Government stayed in power for another 18 years, as some were predicting, he'd be 78 before the Conservatives regained office. "If we're going to be in opposition again, I'm history, I'm nothing. I shall sit and watch from the outside."
Archer didn't want to talk about the court case. Off camera, he expressed supreme confidence that he would be cleared. That unbridled confidence - and the ability to bounce back from the edge of disaster - is the story of Jeffrey Archer's life.
The young Jeffrey became a policeman, but soon left to go to America, where he claimed to have won a degree in anatomy from the University of California, and become a Fellow of the International Federation of Physical Culture.
On the strength of this, he got into Oxford - though if the university had checked, they'd have realised there was no Californian degree. And the fellowship? Well, Archer did belong to a body-building club.
"Archer is essentially Mr Toad," says Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye. "Anyone who reads children's books knows who Archer is. He's a fantastically bumptious character who makes things up."
According to Edwina Currie, a former Conservative MP, "He's a fantasist. He really doesn't see the difference between the fantasy world and reality."
Archer managed to get himself elected to Parliament at the age of 29, but was bankrupted by a failed investment scheme and forced to resign his seat.
Archer needed money. His gift for storytelling was about to turn him into a multi-millionaire. In 1975, he published his novel, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less. It was the first in a string of bestsellers. But for Archer, it wasn't enough.
"He wanted power," says Ian Hislop. "He wanted to exercise it. He wanted the glamour of it. He wanted that filmic version of himself, in which he picks up the phone [and] tells people what to do. He wanted it desperately. And amazingly, people were prepared to give him that."
Margaret Thatcher was smitten. In 1985 she made him deputy chairman of the Conservative party. It all began to come undone the following year, with allegations he'd slept with a prostitute, Monica Coghlan, then paid her off to keep quiet.
But once again, Lazarus-like, Archer came back. He sued the paper, swearing on oath that the claims were false.
His ever-faithful wife Mary stood by him, though by then Archer had quietly installed one of his mistresses, Andrina Colquhoun, in his London home.
Archer won more than a million dollars in damages.
"I didn't believe him for a minute," says Hislop. "And I was staggered when the jury came in with this verdict. I think the foreman had a bow-tie and he actually came up and congratulated Archer afterwards."
Now Archer was appointed to the House of Lords. And finally the Tories nominated Archer for the biggest political prize outside parliament: Lord Mayor of London.
But Archer was about to be betrayed. Ted Francis, a friend who had provided a false alibi in the libel case, confessed to a newspaper and secretly recorded conversations with Archer.
Archer's bid to become Mayor was finally killed by the then Tory leader, William Hague.
Archer bears no ill will towards Hague. Rather, his hatred is aimed squarely at the British press. Like Archer himself, Hague had become a sitting target for the merciless hacks of Fleet Street.
"Lazy indolent people who will be off having a good time getting drunk at night while [Hague's] slaving round the streets trying to get the votes," Archer tells Jim Waley. "I have no respect for journalists who make those sorts of ridiculous comments and then never give any public service themselves."
On Thursday, the jury found Jeffrey Archer guilty of perjury and perverting the course of justice. Instead of arriving back at his apartment hideaway for a champagne celebration, Archer found himself being driven through the forbidding gates of Belmarsh Prison, to begin a four-year jail sentence.