The best-selling novelist with a rare gift for inaccurate precis


WHEN LORD ARCHER of Weston-super-Mare decided to run for mayor, he sat his family down for a chat. "If I go for it," he said, "we're all going to have to face the past." His critics might have responded: "Which past?"

For the truth of Lord Archer's life story has always suffered from what his wife, Mary, called "inaccurate precis". Veering between triumph and disaster, it has been shrouded in a haze of half-truths and exaggerations. As he withdrew his candidacy yesterday for the one job that he believed would ensure his place in history, there was a certain poetic justice that it was a lie that deprived him of it.

Jeffrey Howard Archer was born in Somerset in April 1940. Even at its beginning his life was mired in confusion. On his birth certificate, his father, William, a bigamist and fraudster, was described as a "journalist", which he was not.

The young Jeffrey Archer attended Wellington, a small private school near Taunton - not the more prestigious college in Berkshire. He left without A-levels but thanks to his athletic prowess won a place to study for an education diploma at the Department of Education at Oxford. Although he was only loosely attached to the university, his early acquaintances were left with the impression that Lord Archer had been "at Oxford", just as a certificate from a body-building course was later mistaken for an American university degree.

Nonetheless, he became president of the university athletics club and was chosen for the British Olympic team, developed an interest in politics and joined the Oxford Union.

From early on, his goals were to make a name for himself and to make money. He once said that when he was three, he wanted to be four. When he was four, he wanted to be prime minister.

After Oxford, Lord Archer became a public relations officer and fund- raiser working for the European Movement and the United Nations, where he faced minor allegations of inaccurate expenses. Brushing them aside, he married Mary, a brilliant research graduate, in 1966, won a seat on the Greater London Council a year later and by 1969 was MP for Louth, in Lincolnshire.

But within five years he was close to broke, thanks to a rash investment. He left Parliament and decided to write his way out of financial disaster. Within a year, he had published Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, an instant best-seller. He has now sold 120 million books worldwide and has a fortune measurable in tens of millions.

But riches were never enough. Political ambition remained. He bounced back to become deputy chairman of the Conservative Party in 1985, only to resign over the Monica Coghlan affair, a peculiar encounter with a prostitute. The story raised more questions than it answered, yet Lord Archer proved triumphant in court. He won pounds 500,000 damages after explaining that he had paid her pounds 2,000 only to help her escape press attention.

Political damage had been done, but the irrepressible Lord Archer remained an energetic figure in the party, the darling of the constituencies and of Baroness Thatcher. By the 1992 election, he was the Tories' unofficial cheerleader. He was created a life peer for his efforts.

But trouble struck again. In 1994 Lord Archer made a profitable investment in shares of Anglia TV just before the announcement of a merger deal. Lady Archer was a non-executive director in Anglia, and an insider trading investigation ensued. Lord Archer was exonerated, but the whiff of scandal remained.

Yet the challenge of serious office still beckoned. And with the announcement that London would have its own mayor, Lord Archer laid his claim to the title. "I don't feel that I've achieved anything politically and I don't really want to leave this earth having been a dilettante on the sidelines," he said recently.

He threw his heart and soul into campaigning, visiting every constituency, surrounding himself with wealthy backers to avert the charge that his own wealth had bought the job. But today, once more, his dreams lie in tatters, with the admission that during the Monica Coghlan affair, he did not tell the absolute truth.

"Yes, I was young once and yes, I have made a number of mistakes," he said recently. "Yes, I am human, which may be the reason I never cast the first stone."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot