Poor old Jeffrey, a victim of so many misfortunes

Jeffrey Archer wants to be a big-city mayor. Let him take his place among his true peers - Koch, Daley, Sonny Bono
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The Independent Culture
SHORTAGE OF MONEY, lack of job opportunities, or even a preference for living a long way away from theatres and cinemas, may mean that many of you reading this column are not currently living in London. Well, that's no reason for you to miss out on what is becoming a local cause celebre, namely the battle over whether or not millionaire author, Jeffrey Archer, is fit to be the Conservative candidate as the capital's first elected mayor.

The London Evening Standard says that he is not. In fact, that newspaper has said so twice. The first time, a few weeks ago, prompted Lord Archer to reply at length on Tuesday in his own defence, answering many of the charges laid against him. But yesterday, the Standard repeated its dim view of Lord Archer's probity, arguing that "again and again he has shown an absence of judgement".

The Times, with a lofty perversity, has meanwhile recommended Archer to submit himself at once to the Conservative Party's Ethics and Integrity Committee (sic), despite the fact that the committee has neither been constituted nor awarded with its terms of reference. Perhaps, said The Times, Lord Archer could prostrate himself before the new chairman of the committee, when that person is appointed "within the next few weeks", and they could sort of take it from there.

In my view he should do no such thing. Lord Archer has my full support to add to that of (according to him) "several Shadow Cabinet members and Tory peers". For I have read all the material published recently, and my conclusion is that Archer is merely a victim of a series of accidents and misfortunes such as any of us might well experience (if not all in the same lifetime).

Nor do I say this as an admirer of his writings. "Have you read any of the works of Jeffrey Archer?" has long been a trick question for applicants wishing to join the BBC's News directorate. If the answer is "yes", the candidate will - whatever his or her other qualifications - be sent a polite letter of rejection. (The exact reverse is true in BBC Light Entertainment.) I was able to take my place among the Paxmans and the Sissonses because I have never read a word that Lord Archer has written. I gather that sex takes place in his novels, and I have no wish to contemplate the author involved in energetic, but unfragrant, research for these passages with his lovely wife, Mary.

Charge one is that he is a fantasist, who awarded his huckster father an undeserved DCM and claimed his grandad was Lord Mayor of Bristol when he wasn't. Archer replies that it was the DCM league that first suggested that pa Archer was a hero in the 1914-18 war (rather than a fraudster in the USA and Canada), and that - for the rest - he simply believed what he was told by the family.

It's easily done, isn't it? I have for years told everybody that I am related to the man who first swam the Channel and who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel. I'm a bit hazy, but I think my mother told me about this; however, if it turns out to be romantic nonsense, does that mean that I too will be forced to book an all-day appointment with the Ethics and Integrity Committee?

Then there's the question of how Archer, who left school A-level-less, managed to get into Brasenose College, Oxford (there is, unfortunately, no Braseneck College) on a CV which claimed passes in A-level English, history and geography. And how the impression was given that he had been awarded a BSc degree from an American university, when in fact he had merely attended a summer school on campus.

Archer does not admit it, but what else was a guy supposed to do? Imagine that you had failed academically at school. Now also imagine that the world outside was so pedantic and pernickety (as, in the mid-Sixties, it was) that it regards a lack of the appropriate qualifications as an absolute brake on future progress. Why not gild the lily a little?

Let us turn to the issue of the disputed expenses, claimed while Archer worked for the United Nations Association in the late Sixties. Archer says that - over three years - he might have made pounds 80 more than he was theoretically entitled to, that this hardly amounts to a fiddle, but is down to administrative complexity. And, of course, he is quite right. I have never managed to get the hang of the Independent's expenses system, and it has cost me thousands of pounds. How I have longed for someone to do what Archer did for his colleagues at the GLC at around the same time, which was to fill in the forms for them in return for a 10 per cent commission.

On rapidly to Toronto and the shoplifting case. In 1975, Jeffrey Archer (then down on his uppers) was apprehended by store detectives in a Toronto mall apparently walking out of a store with an armful of suits. They didn't charge him. He was, he said, confused by the store layout and was looking for the shirt department when he inadvertently exited the store. Again, I have done something similar, once wandering into the food section of M&S, still clutching a pair of boxer shorts.

We turn now to the famous Coghlan case. Now, I have not myself had the experience of paying a prostitute - with whom I have not had sex - to go away. But I can see how it might come about. A distressed woman phones you out of the blue, tells you the tabloids are manufacturing a story about the pair of you, but that this can be avoided if she can go away for a bit. Might you not...? No? Well, look, no one could possibly make it up.

And, finally, there's those pesky Anglia shares. Here's a guy worth 50 million quid who makes a measly 70 grand for a pal on shares in a company upon whose board his wife sits. Sure, he can't quite remember who told him that they were a good bet. He says it was Sir Nicholas Lloyd and Sir Nicholas Lloyd says it wasn't. But even suppose that the fragrant Mary had - one morning in Grantchester - passed the kedgeree with the observation that interesting things were afoot down 't mill, would that really be such a scandal? Can't couples talk to each other these days? Is this Russia?

No. Archer is colourful, but then, we have decided to have an American- style city mayor. Well, the ones that I can recall are Ed Koch, Sonny Bono, Clint Eastwood and Mayor Daley. And I don't think that Jeffrey Archer sounds so very out of place in that list, do you?