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A twist in the tale for Lord Archer

LORD ARCHER will know by next week whether a court in Nigeria has agreed to hear the preliminary stages of an pounds 8m libel suit involving him brought by a former Nigerian minister who alleges Archer has portrayed him as 'a swindler and a thief'.

A Nigerian High Court judge will rule on a claim by Major General James Oluleye that Archer defamed him in one of his short stories, 'Clean Sweep Ignatius', part of a collection published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1988 under the title A Twist in the Tale. Oluleye alleges he can be identified as the fictional villain in the story, and has therefore been defamed as 'a rogue and a hooligan who has no respect for human existence'.

In the story, the villain visits Switzerland and, holding a pistol to a bank chief's head, tries to persuade him to reveal the names of all Nigerians holding numbered accounts. When the banker refuses, the minister produces a suitcase full of money and asks to open an account.

The defendants - Archer, his former publisher Hodder & Stoughton, and Express Newspapers - will allege that the story did not identify the plaintiff. Archer told me defiantly yesterday that he didn't know Oluleye, and stressed he was only the third party in the action. Fail to make that clear, and I would be sued, he said.

IF ANY proof is needed that Douglas Hurd has given up hope of becoming prime minister, it must surely be the departure of his special adviser, Edward Bickham.

From next month, Bickham will be employed by the public affairs consultancy Hill and Knowlton, a reputable firm, but not, I would imagine, the most obvious resting place for a man with political ambition since his Oxford days.

Examine the career of Hurd himself. Coming to Ted Heath's attention while working in the research department at Central Office, Hurd became his private secretary in 1968 and was therefore in pole position when Heath became prime minister in 1970. He was duly installed at No 10.

Bickham is likewise in pole position. Apart from two years working at British Satellite Broadcasting, he has been with the man he calls 'The Boss' for seven years at the Northern Ireland Office, Home Office and the Foreign Office, and would have been expected to continue in a senior role if Hurd ever moved to Downing Street.

'You greatly overestimate my importance,' Bickham told me yesterday as we chatted at the Foreign Office. 'But I don't think Hurd thinks he is going to be the next leader of the Conservative Party. He doesn't wish to challenge Major.'

Of course, Hurd may just not have told Bickham that he intends to fight Major. Another former Hurd adviser, David Lidington, now a Tory MP, told me a few years ago that Hurd insisted on total silence whenever the two travelled by car. Deep and inscrutable, in other words.

Brideshead revisited FOR THOSE who missed the brouhaha, Dominick Dunne's latest blockbuster, A Season in Purgatory, centres on the murder (and cover- up) of a teenage girl by a frustrated suitor called Constant Bradley. As the reviewers pointed out, there are similarities between the story and the Kennedy saga, in particular the William Kennedy Smith rape trial, a case Dunne happened to cover.

Now another parallel is being drawn, this time with Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. According to one attentive reader of both works, the following episodes are common to both: Bradley's introduction of his poorer friend Harrison to his troubled family (cf Lord Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder); the exotic homosexual 'Fruity' Suarez meets Harrison in a bar (the rendezvous between Anthony Blanche and Ryder); Harrison's affair with Constant's sister after a chance meeting in a storm (Charles and Julia); and Constant's drinking (Sebastian ad nauseam).

Such claims surprise Dunne's publicists. 'Oh, I'm sure he's read Brideshead. But it's pure coincidence,' a spokeswoman said.

THE distinguished-looking black man spotted by a colleague in his red Mercedes was no doubt spouting Shakespeare as he sped along. His number plate? 1AGO.

A DAY LIKE THIS

16 June 1670 John Evelyn writes in his journal of a visit to London: 'I was forc'd to accompanie some friends to the Bear-garden etc: Where was cock fighting, Beare, Dog fighting, Beare and Bull baiting, it being a famous day for all these butcherly sports, or rather barbarous cruelties: The Bulls did exceedingly well but the Irish Wolfe dog exceeded, which was a tall Gray-hound, a stately creature in deede, who beat a cruel Mastife: One of the Bulls tossed a Dog full into a Ladys lap, as she sate in one of the boxes at a Considerable height from the Arena: There were two poore dogs killed; and so all ended with the Ape on horse- back, and I most heartily weary, of the rude and dirty passetime, which I had not seene I think in twenty yeares before.'

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