Archer opens his doors to art lovers

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The place: a 14th-floor penthouse above the river Thames. To view: more than 250 paintings by Impressionists and 20th-century British artists. Your host and guide: Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, best- selling novelist, erstwhile politician, and art collector.

For two hours on two separate days in May and June, Lord Archer is opening up his flat on London's Albert Embankment to raise funds for the Friends of the Royal Academy.

Such are the tours' popularity that the Friends of the RA is to hold a ballot among its members to see who will be among the 30 guests allowed in on each occasion.

"We're hideously oversubscribed," said a spokeswoman. "We've only been advertising the tour for a week and we're already overwhelmed with applications."

She admitted that the chance to nose around a home of the rich and famous may be an added attraction. "He is doing us a favour to be honest. Lord Archer's name does lend some extra kudos to an art show. But the art and furniture merit attraction in their own right."

Those who survive the ballot will view a collection acquired over 25 years. For pounds 15 - all the entrance fee goes to the RA - visitors will view works by Picasso, Braque, Pissarro, Miro, and five by L S Lowry. But pride of place goes to a river scene by Sisley, with which Lord Archer said he fell in love "as with a beautiful woman". It hangs in the bedroom.

Lord Archer will conduct the tours of the flat, where he has lived for 16 years. "It's important I should be on hand to show people round so I can give them a history of the paintings," he said. Cocktails will also be laid on.

"I'm basically doing them a good deed," said Lord Archer, 56, who has been a Friend of the RA for 20 years. "I realise it's quite a struggle for the RA to raise money. Art is one of my passions and therefore they get more of my attention."

Fears that allowing visitors into his flat could breach security were unfounded, he said. "It's always an option to never open your door to anyone and sit alone being a cynical and unpleasant person and worry that a picture might get pinched. I would rather do something that is genuinely good and helpful."

Lord Archer's collection will be open to Friends of the Royal Academy only on 30 May and 6 June. Enquiries about this and other RA open days: Royal Academy 0171 494 5663.