Looking relaxed and confident, Jeffrey has passed swiftly through the early rounds with a series of entirely credible assertions regarding his academic career at Wellington (the minor public school, not the posh one), Oxford (a one-year diploma attached to Brasenose College), his non-existent stint at Sandhurst and his Berkeley physical education diploma which in fact came from a London-based correspondence course. Now, we start the big questions.
Chris Tarrant: So Jeffrey, the tension is mounting, you're going for 32,000 votes, and it's a simple question: What was your father? His name was William Archer, he gave his occupation as journalist on your birth certificate, but was he, as you have claimed:
(a) a medal-winning sergeant in the Second World War,
(b) a colonel,
(c) British consul in Singapore, or
(d) a conman?
Jeffrey Archer: He was a sub-atomic physicist.
Tarrant: No he wasn't.
Archer: He was an astronaut who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature before winning the Belgian Grand Prix.
Tarrant: Are you sure about that?
Archer: Oh, all right, he was a solicitor's clerk and a bigamist who left England in 1914 to escape arrest and avoid the call-up - so (d).
Tarrant: That's absolutely right! Ecstatic applause from the studio audience. So, you've already got a fantastic career writing airport fiction, a lovely wife and that fabulous flat overlooking the Thames. I'm now holding a ballot-paper containing 32,000 votes. You can keep that - or you can go for 64,000. Which will it be?
Archer: I'll go for the 64 million votes, please, Chris.
Tarrant: Um, that's 64,000, Jeffrey.
Archer: That's what I said. I never said 64 million votes. And I'll sue anyone who says I did.
Tarrant: Right, then, for 64 THOU-sand votes - When you applied to be the Tory candidate for London's mayor, was your past investigated by:
(b) the Fraud Squad,
(c) the Tory Ethics and Integrity Committee, or
(d) nobody, because you assured the party leadership that you had nothing to hide?
Archer: Er - can I use a lifeline here, Chris? I'd like to call my friend William. He's waiting on the line at the House of Commons...
Tarrant picks up phone and dials.
William Hague (for it is he): Aye?
Tarrant: Hello? William? This is Chris Tarrant. I've got Jeffrey for you. He wants to ask you a question.
Archer: Hi, William, how's that case of Krug I sent over?
Hague: Do you mean the bottle of Piat d'Or?
Archer: Well, er, OK... Now, this question - it's about my past. I've got nothing to hide, right?
Hague: Of course not, Jeffrey. You assured me you're as clean as the driven snow - which you'd know all about, obviously, being a former Olympic downhill ski champion - and that was good enough for me.
Tarrant: So is (d) your final answer then? When you applied to be mayor, nobody investigated your past?
Archer: I had already been exonerated by two DTI inquiries.
Tarrant: You're positive you don't want to change your mind?
Archer: The profit of pounds 77,219 made on the sale of 20,000 Anglia TV shares in 1994 had nothing to do with me. I bought them on behalf of my good friend Broosk Saib and I certainly didn't get any kind of insider tip- off from my wife, who by chance was a director of Anglia at the time.
Tarrant: So you're sure it's (d). There was no need for any investigation?
Archer: Yes, Chris, I'm sure -
Tarrant: - Is the RIGHT answer! Wild applause from the studio audience. So, now you can keep those 64,000 votes - which is, let's face it, more than Frank Dobson is ever likely to get. Or you can chance your arm and go for 125,000. Which will it be, Jeffrey?
Archer: I'll take the risk and hope to God I get away with it, Chris. It's always worked for me in the past.
Tarrant: OK, then, for one - hundred - and twenty-five - THOOOUUSAND - votes. In the first week of November 1974, did posh, blue-eyed, blonde Andrina Colquhoun have a dinner date with:
(b) John Stonehouse,
(c) Lord Lucan, or
(d) Martin Bormann?
Archer: Well, it certainly wasn't with me! I've got a dear friend who'll confirm that he was dining with me on the night in question, whenever it was...
Tarrant: I'm sorry, Jeffrey, but I've got to hurry you.
Archer: OK - (c) Lord Lucan. Who was my fag at Eton, by the way.
Tarrant: You're sure it wasn't the kidnapped Derby-winner Shergar?
Archer: Whom I rode to victory at Epsom...
Tarrant: Or the escaped Nazi mastermind Bormann?
Archer: I tracked him down in Bolivia, you know...
Tarrant: You're sure you don't want to ask the audience? Or go 50-50?
Archer: No, no, it was definitely my dear old chum Lucky-
Tarrant: - Is - the - RIGHT - answer! Audience explodes into applause. Several punters have seizures, require medical attention. Archer volunteers his services as a heart and/ or brain surgeon. Order is restored.
Tarrant: So, Jeffrey, we're getting very close. You're almost there. For a man of your talents, it's practically a formality. So let's stay with Andrina - and let's face it, who wouldn't? - for 250,000 votes. In the early Eighties, while your fragrant wife Mary stayed in Cambridge and you spent week-nights at your exclusive London penthouse, did this luscious, pouting Sloane stunna:
(a) act as hostess at your parties,
(b) accompany you to glamorous social events,
(c) fly to the Caribbean with you on novel-writing trips, or
(d) all of the above.
Archer: I'm going to go for (d), Chris. But it was always a purely professional relationship.
Tarrant: I know just what you mean, Jeffrey. So, let's not give the tabloids any more reason to snoop around our private lives, a nod's as good as a wink, eh? That's 250,000 votes! Slightly more muted applause from surviving, exhausted punters. Okay, two to go. Lowers voice in attempt to induce bogus sense of tension. Are you feeling all right? Not too nervous? Because you can stop now. You can walk away with your votes and your reputation intact and not a stain on your character...
Archer (now grinning broadly): I've got nothing to hide.
Tarrant: Of course not. So, for 500,000 votes - When a former friend and associate, the TV producer Ted Francis, approached you to invest in his Enid Blyton project, did you:
(a) tell him you'd rather not,
(b) invest pounds 25,000,
(c) invest pounds 20,000, or
(d) say you'd give him pounds 25,000, draw up a contract for pounds 20,000, in fact give him pounds 12,000 in pounds 20 notes and then publicly humiliate him by telling party guests that you'd lent him pounds 20,000 and never got it back?
Archer: I can't believe it. You invite a chap to one of your exclusive, top people's parties, with champagne and shepherd's pie, and then he doesn't have the decency to take a well-meaning joke at his own expense.
Tarrant: So that would be (d)? You've got two lifelines left - sure you won't ask the audience?
Archer: Yes, Chris.
Tarrant: Final answer?
Archer: It's my final answer, Chris.
Tarrant: is the - RIGHT answer! So, Jeffrey Archer, you've overcome financial ruin; an infamous libel action; repeated investigations by the media and authorities and the deep suspicion of senior Tories. You're just one tiny question away from the million votes you need to become mayor of London. So, for the ultimate prize, on 9 September 1986, did you dine with
(a) dear friend Andrina Colquhoun,
(b) an away-day prostitute called Monica Coghlan,
(c) celebrity spouse Mary Archer, or (d) your massively disgruntled ex- pal Ted Francis?
Archer: (d), Chris.
Tarrant: You're absolutely positive?
Archer: I'd swear on the Bible.
Tarrant: You're not telling porkies - conspiring to pervert the course of justice - giving it a bit of the old Pinocchio?
Archer: Absolutely not. It's (d).
Tarrant: Not according to the News of the World it isn't! The real answer is (a). You were having an entirely professional dinner with blonde Andrina. Gasps from the studio audience. In the background, phone-friend William can be heard beating head against floor in frustration. I'm sorry, Jeffrey, but the game's over, along with your political career. Exit Archer, still maintaining his innocence. Tarrant turns to camera. So, it's good-bye to Jeffrey, but I hope you'll come back tomorrow night when Ken, Frank and Glenda will be joining me in the studio and we'll be asking them just one, million-vote question: Do you love Tony more than life itself? So, till then, good night!