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Lord Archer the author signs in to a haven at Harrods

FOR ANYONE else it would be an ordeal to sign books for two hours in an airless store on a sweltering afternoon. For Lord Archer yesterday, it was therapy, writes Stephen Ward.

He arrived at Harrods in his chauffeured Daimler looking anxious to make sure no journalists came near him, but by the time he had performed for his adoring readers for an hour, he was smiling and laughing, taking refuge in what he does best.

'Thank you very much indeed' for buying a copy he said to each one as they headed off proudly. As if an additional reward was needed, there was a bowl filled with squares of melting chocolate. One couple told him they lived in Brent Knoll, Somerset, and Lord Archer suddenly went broad West Country: 'Ah yes m'dears I know Brent Knoll very well, I come from Weston-super-Mare.' The couple were filled with delight.

By formally telling Harrods to ban all journalists from his signing, he effectively imposed a pounds 14.99 question tax. To be personally refused a comment on share dealing face-to-face, it was necessary to hide the notebook, buy a copy of Twelve Red Herrings, and queue up with the rest.

Finally the clamour subsided, Lord Archer knocked off his signature in 109 pre-ordered copies, and was off home to his family. 'He's the fastest,' Helen Ellis, his minder from HarperCollins, said proudly.

Archer investigation, page 4

Inside Story, page 15

(Photograph omitted)