Maxwell vs Murdoch - the untold story
Stop Press: Archer writes witty book! The Fourth Estate by Jeffrey Archer, HarperCollins, pounds 16.99
Saturday 11 May 1996
Townsend is an Oxford-educated Australian who inherits and vastly expands his family's newspaper business. He is more a gambler than a crook, though at school he does pinch some of the cricket pavilion fund to bet on a horse, in a comic foreshadowing of the pension-fund theft that will eventually cause Armstrong's ruin.
There is a rumour in book circles that Archer's manuscripts, as delivered to his publishers, are simply awful, and that the editors should take credit for the finished product. On the evidence of The Fourth Estate, this is untrue. In a properly edited text, we would not be told that Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939, or that the Allies landed in Normandy on 5 June 1944, which can't be a simple misprint because the previous day is given as 4 June. And since the editors don't seem to have done any work, Archer must be held responsible for the novel's merits as well as its faults. So we can thank him for such observations as: "it was still a court-martial offence for a British officer to have an overdraft.''
For the same reason, where any nicely turned sentences occur, we should put them down to authorial, not editorial talent. For example: "Two decisions were made when Keith was 11 which were to shape the rest of his life, and both of them caused him to burst into tears.'' Or, dealing with Armstrong this time, "People he had never been able to get an appointment with in the past were inviting him to lunch at the Garrick, even if, having met him, they didn't go as far as suggesting he should become a member.''
Though you might not guess it from his public persona, Archer has a dry sense of humour. Townsend, in the middle of a squash game at the New York Racquets Club, hears of a possible deal and flies straight to Heathrow, where "the cabbie didn't feel it was his place to ask why his fare was wearing a track suit and carrying a squash racket. Perhaps all the courts in New York were booked.'' Later, Armstrong drives through Manhattan to a key meeting and wonders how the other side got there ahead of him. "I suspect they walked,'' says his lawyer.
In the most sustained humorous sequence, Townsend gets bested by an ageing English heiress who has written an abysmal pornographic novel. She agrees to sell him her newspaper shares on condition he publishes the embarrassing bonkbuster. He puts lots of clever get-out clauses in the contract but she spots them all. No doubt more could be made of this Wodehousian material, but Archer doesn't do too badly.
Once Townsend acquires the paper, here called the Globe rather than the Sun, a curious thing happens. It is 1968, Wilson is at No.10 and Heath is opposition leader. Townsend instals his new editor, makes plans to turn the paper into a tabloid and prepares to tackle the print unions. A "few months'' are said to have gone by, the situation is the same, but suddenly the background has changed. Thatcher now leads the opposition and is poised to win the 1979 election.
This would be absurd if it weren't so Shakespearian. It exactly replicates the famous double time- scheme in Othello. Presumably, with Archer as with Shakespeare, these things are not quite mistakes, and not calculated trickery either, but stem from a kind of serendipity or constructive carelessness. It certainly helps the pace.
Archer doesn't do insight or atmosphere, and gives the imagination very few cues. But at least in the second half, when the dealmaking becomes more competitive, the pull of the story to some extent makes up for the lack of depth, and although it will frustrate those who enjoy wordplay and cerebral exercise,The Fourth Estate is not wholly unsatisfactory.
Threat of 'catastrophic cascade of collisions' must be averted, warn scientists
Life & Style blogs
Pakistan vs Paul Smith: Sandal-wearers bemused by famed British designer's attempts to sell traditional Peshawari chappal-style shoes for the distinctly untraditional sum of £300
Blood test that predicts Alzheimer's disease
Lego told off by 7-year-old girl for promoting gender stereotypes
Apple iOS 7.1 update: Boxes are out, circles are in; CarPlay support and no more random resets
Titanfall: Release date, gameplay basics, DLC and everything else you need to know
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Vince Cable: Teachers 'know absolutely nothing' about the world of work
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
The quiet diplomat: Catherine Ashton - recognised and admired in all the world’s troubled countries, yet ridiculed at home
- 1 Pakistan vs Paul Smith: Sandal-wearers bemused by famed British designer's attempts to sell traditional Peshawari chappal-style shoes for the distinctly untraditional sum of £300
- 2 Family forced to flee home after discovering 'terrifying' nest of spiders in bananas
- 3 Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
- 4 Russell Crowe's Noah banned in three Arab countries before worldwide premiere
- 5 Bob Crow death: 'Admired by his members, feared by employers' - Tributes pour in for RMT union leader and 'working class hero' Bob Crow
£20000 - £23000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: Our client specialises in creati...
£30000 - £50000 per annum + Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: Private Cli...
£30000 - £35000 per annum + Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: Residential...
£1000 per month: Inspiring Interns: The company works with Tier 1 FTSE 100 Ban...