Life with the Archers: a true story stranger than fiction

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The Independent Online

The inside story, by one who wishes to remain anonymous

My name is Herman Prendergast. That is not my real name, of course. My real name is Zoltan Deyna. That is not my real name either. But when I was working for Lady Archer as her personal assistant, I signed a gagging clause, agreeing not to reveal anything that I learnt in her employ. So when I left her employ, I changed my name by deed poll, several times, so that I would not be bound by the agreement that I had signed under a different name. This is an idea that I suggested to Lord Archer for one of his novels, but he never used it.

Herman Prendergast was also a name that I suggested to Jeffrey Archer. Lord Archer always had trouble dreaming up names for the characters in his novels, and one of my tasks when working for the Archers was to list possible fictional names. He was very anxious not to be seen to copy or borrow anything for his books, so I had to make sure that all these names were unique.

"If there were someone called Herman Prendergast living in Leicester," said Archer to me, "and I had used the name in my book, they would be on to me like a shot."

"Would it not be more sensible to use a very common name?" I suggested to him. "If you have a hero or a villain with a bog-standard name, you are in no danger of being sued. Would a man called James Bond sue Fleming? Would a boy called Harry Potter sue JK Rowling?"

"Who is JK Rowling?" asked Lord Archer.

Lord Archer always liked to pretend that he was the only millionaire author in the world.

One of my main jobs for Lady Archer was keeping the diaries up to date. Between them they had at least half a dozen diaries on the go. There was her private diary, and also her business diary. There was the diary in which she kept a record of what Lord Archer said he was doing, and another for what he actually did. There was a House of Lords diary in which he wrote down ideas from other people's speeches. There was also a diary marked "The Private Diary of Herman Prendergast". This was my diary. Of course, I didn't write my private thoughts and observations in there. I wrote them in another book called Letts Diary for Boys 1998, which I knew nobody would ever look at.

As Lady Archer's personal assistant, it was part of my job to answer her telephone. Sometimes it was the national press asking to speak to her. Sometimes it was relations of hers asking to speak to her. Sometimes it was the national press pretending to be relations of hers and asking to speak to her. Sometimes it was Lord Archer, asking me to write an entry in one of the diaries. I always had to sort these calls out myself, except when the caller was ringing about Anglia TV, or shares, or something like that, when I was instructed to hand the phone straight over to Lady Archer.

Living at the Old Vicarage, Grantchester, we quite often got visitors who wanted to see where Rupert Brooke had lived. Lady Archer was very affable with them, and had even written a booklet about Brooke's connections with the place, which she sold to visitors instead of letting them in.

"You see, Herman, I am not the only one in the place who has a modest best-seller on their hands," she said to me more than once.

Lord Archer had a very ambivalent attitude to Rupert Brooke. He found it odd that literary people should come there and not be interested in him. He once read some Rupert Brooke to see what all the fuss was about, and told me that he couldn't see it.

"It's all pretty dreary, Herman," he told me. "No story. No plot. No twist. Just lots of verse. Anyone can write verse. I could write verse if there was any money in it. I could have been poet laureate if I had put my mind to it. I was asked once or twice to be poet laureate, but I didn't have the time."

One day I found a strange woman wandering around the Archers' sitting room. I challenged her sharply.

"Who are you and what are you doing in here?" I said.

The woman smiled.

"Do you not recognise me, Herman?" she said.

I gasped. It was Lady Archer. But her face was somehow different.

I am sorry. We have just received an injunction forbidding us to print any more of these revelations. The matter is now in the hands of the lawyers

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