The law has finally caught up with Jeffrey Archer. This slipperiest of subjects has been nailed, and now jailed. It is all over. Or is it? Away from the din of the denouncements that inevitably followed, a small group of people believes there will, at the very least, be an epilogue.
Jonathan Aitken – another disgraced Conservative whose lies landed him in jail – referred to "the three Fs: faith, family and friends". They had saved him, he said. Now they will save Archer.
The former deputy chairman of the Conservatives may have thrown parties for thousands. But this morning only a few people are willing to call him a friend: Gilbert Gray, the top QC; Sir John Lacey, a former Tory adviser; Frank Marshall, a Hollywood film producer; Adrian Metcalfe, an Olympic silver medallist in athletics; literary agent Jonathan Lloyd; and perhaps Archer's closest friend, art gallery owner Chris Beetles.
By contrast, the great and the good who chinked crystal across his living room, the celebrities who had chattered in corridors, and the aspiring media types who had proudly displayed his invitations on their mantelpieces, were strangely silent.
Baroness Thatcher, who had backed him in his bid to be London mayor, issued a "no comment" via her office when he was sentenced. William Hague, who had used Archer's private gym to practise judo with Sebastian Coe, did the same. Michael Portillo, who used to brag about receiving Archer's invitations, had retired from front-line politics just in time to stay silent. Only John Major had a kind word for the man he made a life peer. His parties had been attended by newspaper editors and senior journalists, but few defended him now.
The boxer Henry Cooper had backed Archer's bid to be mayor, and his sidekick Frank Bruno had been a guest of the peer at a Conservative ball. Other regulars at his parties were the novelists Fay Weldon and Frederick Forsyth, actor Nigel Havers, comedians Barry Humph- ries and Jim Davidson, and broadcasters Clive James, Selina Scott, Ann Diamond, Sir David Frost and John Humphrys.
Some of Archer's former friends managed to say a few well-chosen words. The columnist Matthew Parris said he was "something more of a rascal, more of a scallywag than an evil person". And TV presenter Giles Brandreth, an ex-Tory MP, maintained that Archer was "very likeable", before saying: "He has this fatal flaw, this difficulty with the truth. Maybe he has it to a worse degree than most people. He's certainly paying for it now."
Only a brave few have kept faith with Archer the man. They are the ones who will be helping to put him back on the road, though they would rather not be named just at the moment. One said: "I think those people who continued to see him over the past few months are real friends, and will remain so. He has got a core of genuine friends who will no doubt will go and visit him."
Another said: "He brought an excitement into politics, which has now been lost. I think that's sad. The good that he has done, albeit sometimes contrived and selfish, should help compensate, should help us balance our opinion of him."
Some of Archer's closest friends gave evidence at his trial, including Michael Beloff QC, the president of Trinity College, Oxford, who met the Archers in the 1960s and described his old friend as "intensely loyal". "Whenever one comes into contact with him you always come away feeling happier." Frank Marshall, whose credits include Back to the Future and Raiders of the Lost Ark, said: "He has always been a good friend. He has been kind, generous, sincere and honest." And Sir John Lacey said: "Lord Archer is very honest and trustworthy."
Other close friends have helped Archer through tough times in the past. When he was "depressed" after the mayoral fiasco, Gilbert Gray used his experience of more than 500 murder trials to help him devise his play The Accused. Stephan Shakespeare, his spokes- man during the mayoral campaign, remains close. Godfrey Barker, the former arts writer on the Daily Telegraph, is said to remain loyal. And Chris Beetles continued to dine with Archer up to three times a week, often at Mayfair's Le Caprice, the restaurant Archer ate in just hours before his fateful meeting with the prostitute Monica Coghlan. That meeting, and the repeated lies about it, were his undoing. But not his end.
One friend said: "Clearly, this is the collapse of everything. He will be deeply depressed. I don't see him being able to bounce back after this. I think he will write his books, confine himself to that."
Another added: "He was, he is, just a massive character. I was always amazed by his complete and ruthless ambition and his attention to detail, attention to the future no matter what happened."
Trevor Kavanagh, political editor of The Sun newspaper, said: "Jeffrey was once described as the original India rubber man, bouncing back from every adversity. He is unsinkable. He will bounce back from this latest disaster. Friends will beat a path to visit him in prison. I will be among them."
It is such support that Jonathan Aitken relied upon. He said last week: "I hope and pray that Jeffrey Archer can soon rebuild his life from this low point with the courage and resilience that are among his most attractive qualities."