Peter York on Ads In The Know: Jeffrey's back, and this time it's parody

Click to follow

How are things with Jeffrey Archer? We haven't heard from him recently. And yet for 30 years he kept us so entertained. Not the books, of course, they were unreadable. It was The Life, the postmodern para-fiction of that Boy's Own Story. The idea that Jeffrey was a sort of modern Munchausen all through his various careers, as MP, novelist, millionaire, Tory party chairman and prisoner was the fascinating thing.

Most people fib, of course. But in vague self-protective, evasive ways. The borderline between that and proactive big picture stories of the Me as War Hero or Everest Climber variety seems pretty clear. It's the difference between getting out of a tricky spot and building Pinewood Studios on it.

According to his biographer Michael Crick, Archer was always hugely inventive. He was a successful runner but practically everything else is disputed. But in the 1980s the mythical achievements started getting conflated with the real ones. "Jeffrey Archer" really was Tory deputy chairman in 1985-86. His books really did sell across the world. Through the various court cases he seemed unfailingly, crazily cheerful. And the fragrant wife was fascinating; such an achieved committee-sitting academic, as educated as he wasn't, that you thought he'd invented her too.

Like Jonathan Aitken or the Hamiltons, Archer belongs to that group of 1980s "disgraced" Tories where the back-stories are starting to fade and a new generation doesn't exactly know who they were and only registers them when they're on TV. The Hamiltons are making a living on the peanut circuit, today's end-of-the-pier equivalent in secondary TV and even an Edinburgh Festival show (a friend told me it was brilliant). Aitken, so much more a lucky Golden Boy than Archer or Hamilton - Beaverbrook money, upper-class networks, good looks - specialises in piety now. He doesn't seem to need the cash. But money was one of Archer's careers. There was Rupert Brooke's honey-for-tea vicarage at Grantchester, and the South Bank penthouse where they had the Krug and shepherd's pie parties.

I met him twice, once in the 1980s just after my first book was published. He was marvellously nice about it and I was impressed by his technique and terribly flattered. Then I met him at a party at Christie's in the 1990s and he was going on about having all these crucial Warhols and would we like to see them. I wish I'd taken him up on it.

But now, worryingly, he's in a commercial in what seems to be Hamilton territory, ie self-parody, down-market, implicit acknowledgement. It's for a new magazine called in the know, which sounds like a cross between The Week and Heat and makes house-bound women in small estate houses outside Peterborough feel on top of things.

It's got Archer, completely unchanged, holding court on a sofa in a huge room milling with the Great World (Tory conference?). He's holding forth, showing he knows the beat of those mean streets. "More and more kids are carrying knives," he's saying, and then, in a long gap we cut to a chirpy wifey in her kitchen feeding him lines from in the know through an earpiece. "And not to sharpen pencils," she's saying. And, a second later, so is he.

"And what can we do about it?" asks a Spectator second-lead type just as her kettle boils and Jeffrey's left speechless. All this means some Ancient Brit comedy business with Archer rushing to the lav, establishing radio contact, and then re-appearing to work the room. He's good at playing a fraudulent Jeffrey Archer, one who gets his social insights by radio out of a £1 women's magazine, currently 50p.