THE DIARY: Runner who `gets away with things'

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LORD ARCHER of Weston-super-Mare may have failed to last the pace in the London mayoral race but there was a time when he managed to stay the distance in the capital, despite leaving a trail of controversy in his wake. As a student sprinter of 24, he crossed the finish line at the old White City Stadium in Shepherd's Bush on 9 May 1964. He did not win that particular race, the 100 yards in the annual Varsity track and field match, but in finishing runner-up to his great friend Adrian Metcalfe he helped Oxford score maximum points. He should, however, have been disqualified.

As The Times reported: "Oxford were helped considerably when a generous starter did not give a warning to Archer on the first of his two breaks." The track and field rule book states that two false starts equal one disqualification and the surviving television footage suggests that the over-eager Archer actually jumped the starter's gun a third time, en route to his more-than- respectable 10.0sec clocking behind Metcalfe, who won an Olympic 4x400m relay silver medal later that year.

Stan Greenberg, the former BBC television athletics statistician, was at the White City that afternoon. "Archer certainly made two false starts," he maintained. "But, then, you do have to be pulled up for them to be disqualified. That's the rules of the game. Mind you, his whole life does seem to be like that. He does seem to get away with things."

Go like the wind

THERE IS some dispute about exactly how good an athlete Archer happened to be. He claims in Who's Who to be holder of the Oxford 100 yards record, though the 9.6sec he clocked on a university trip to Canada in 1965 was achieved with wind assistance. The Diary can, however, confirm that the Somerset speed merchant did attain full Great Britain representative honours as an athlete, albeit in what The Times described as "a makeshift men's team" which was "humbled" by Sweden in Stockholm in September 1966.

Archer finished third in the 200m in 22.3sec and helped the 4x100m relay team to victory. "I can remember him very well," said Arthur McKenzie, who competed in the discus that weekend. "I mean, he's the sort of character you don't forget - a bit full of himself, a bit bumptious perhaps. But if you look at the sprinters today you could call them bumptious too, couldn't you? To be fair, he was a decent sprinter. A lot of people are deriding him for various things but he did make the British team. It doesn't matter if some runners were unavailable. He was there. He competed for Britain. And not many people can say that."

Not many people can say that they have been an international athlete and a successful writer. But Arthur McKenzie, like his former British team-mate, can. His many scriptwriting credits include The Bill and Casualty. Whether he can say where he was on the evening of 9 September 1986 is, however, another matter.

It is, perhaps, understandable that Lord Archer should have such difficulty remembering with whom he dined on particular dates - not to mention other details of his past, such as which academic qualifications he actually happens to possess. At the freshmen's varsity athletics match in 1963 the future baron was struck on the head by a discus. Having won the 100 and 220 yards for Oxford, he was cheering on competitors in the mile when he was hit by a discus thrown by one of his own team-mates, the American Stan Sanders. The felled Archer was carried away from the track on a stretcher but insisted on watching the final event before going for a check-up.

Missing the pink

THE LINGERING concussive effects of Stan Sanders' discus may explain why Lord Archer was talking balls when he was appointed president of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association two years ago. "I've always been interested in snooker," he said at a ceremony held at the House of Commons. "I mean, who can forget that epic World Championship final in 1985, when Dennis Taylor beat Steve Davis on the final pink?" Who could forget, indeed? Well, the new president for one. As anyone remotely snooker loopy will tell you (though not the baron who claimed in Tatler last year to have once compiled a break of 32), that classic contest went down to the final black.

Taking the mike

IT WAS always Lord Archer's ambition to talk Colemanballs. After leaving Oxford in 1966, he spent his weekends in the BBC sports department badgering editors and executives to give him a break behind the mike. He even applied for David Coleman's job when he read in the press that the doyen might be stepping down as presenter of Grandstand.

His application was promptly rejected, though the BBC did ask him to record a dummy commentary from the England v France rugby international at Twickenham in February 1967. The test proved sufficiently impressive to earn Archer a call-up when Rugby Special hit the small screen on BBC2 later that year. He covered London Scottish versus Northampton and Waterloo versus Gosforth. After just two matches, though, the would-be Bill McLaren was kicked into touch.

The king and I

AND FINALLY... Stan Greenberg, the track and field stats man, recalls being asked to give a lift to one of Archer's Oxford team-mates after an athletics meeting at Leicester in the 1960s. "I'd never met the guy before," he told The Diary, "and I've forgotten his name now but I'll never forget what he said to me. He was a dour type and he'd hardly spoken a word by the time we got on to the M1 to head back to London. I remembered reading that he roomed with Archer so, for conversation, I asked him if that was right. He just said, `Yup,' like Gary Cooper, and we continued in silence for another 25 miles. Then, suddenly, he turned to me and said, `And just be thankful he doesn't want to be king - because that man will be whatever he wants to be." Not Mayor of London, though.