Byline: GEOFFREY LEVY
LIKE so many old aphorisms, the one that proclaims Cheats Never Prosper is based more on wishful thinking than on reality. No one proves how credulous and gullible we have become more than Jeffrey Archer.
All his life he has lied and cheated to better himself. Usually his fabrications have been accepted without question, and when questioned he has been given the benefit of the doubt.
Long after he was first exposed as a serial liar with major question marks against his character he was still being treated like one of the great and good. He was appointed deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, elevated to the House of Lords and, currently, was the popular choice to represent the Tories in the race to be the first Mayor of London overseeing a budget of billions.
He had also made an estimated [pounds sterling]60million largely from writing novels. Not bad for a man with no A-levels and who failed English O-level, personal details that were, as we shall see, denied his early employers.
Not even Jeffrey would have dared invent a fictional figure so outrageous, so untruthful, as himself.
So completely has he created confusion about his life that the only safe way to separate fantasy from reality is to go back to his beginnings, about which the noble Lord has talked in detail and at length.
For example, Jeffrey Archer has always said he was born in Somerset. In fact he was born on April 15 1940 in the City Road area of inner London and taken off to Somerset by his mother, as were thousands of other children, to avoid the Blitz.
His late father, William Archer, described himself as a journalist on Jeffrey's birth certificate.
At various times when Jeffrey Archer was a young politician of growing celebrity, he would talk with swelling breast about his family's military traditions, though the details sometimes changed.
His father was variously described as a First World War medal-winning sergeant in the Somerset Light Infantry, a colonel in the same regiment, a British consul in Singapore and an officer invalided out of the service.
In fact his father, who was 64 when Jeffrey was born, was a solicitor's clerk and a Stepney councillor who was a bigamist, a conman and - like Jeffrey - a fake. He evaded arrest for fraud by leaving England for New York in 1914 when other men were leaving for the trenches.
Archer made other spurious claims about his forebears, including one that his grandfather had been mayor of Bristol.
Still, what's an antecedent or two when a young man is on the way up?
Although, of course, while a fascinating family hinterland was useful, his fantasy family was never, by itself, going to take him where he wanted to go.
Clearly, he had to create qualifications which he'd never earned, to go with the family background that never existed.
When he presented himself at Dover College, Kent, for the advertised post of PE master, he was able to show them a glowing CV that told a story of considerable academic and physical success.
In addition to three A-levels (in Geography, History and English) that he didn't have, the CV said that he was the holder of an Honours Diploma International Federation of Physical Culture from Berkeley University, California.
Berkeley has no record of Archer's stay there. Not surprisingly, since he obtained his 'Honours Diploma' from a correspondence course run from a single room in Chancery Lane, near London's law courts.
The CV also said he had spent a year at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, doing an Army PTI course and had also been a member of the Duke of Wellington regimental basketball team. Sadly, neither Sandhurst nor the regiment has any record of this.
Archer had been educated at Wellington School, a minor public school in Somerset, not to be confused with the famous Wellington College in Berkshire with its strong military tradition, though Archer has never objected to any confusion.
NOR did he object to any confusion over his time at Oxford where, largely thanks to the three A-levels he didn't have, he was accepted for a one-year diploma of education course attached to Brasenose college.
In later years no one can remember Archer putting them right when they inaccurately described him as being 'educated at Wellington and Oxford'.
Jeffrey did run the 100 yards, just as he has said, for the university athletics club, though how he managed to do so when not a resident member of the university, as the club's rules state, is unclear.
So on to his marriage in 1966 to brilliant sciences undergraduate Mary Weeden, and another extraordinary and unnecessary lie. On the marriage certificate Mary, who had just finished her exams, accurately described herself as a 'research graduate'.
So did Jeffrey who, at 27, was no such thing.
He was in fact working as a fundraiser and about to win a seat on the Greater London Council claiming to be the 'youngest-ever GLC councillor'.
He wasn't. He was two years older than Anthony Bradbury, who was elected at the same time.
Nearly three years later, when still 29, he was elected MP for Louth.
Biographical profiles on his books called him 'the youngest member of the House of Commons when he won the by-election' but Bernadette Devlin, elected the same year, was a mere 22.
Public office, even with as modest a body as the GLC, pumped Archer up like a peacock.
When he joined its arts committee he invited his old Dover College head Tim Cobb and his wife to join him and Mary in a box at the Old Vic for Moliere's Le Tartuffe.
For the interval, smoked salmon sandwiches and champagne were laid on in the manager's office, and the quartet had been there for some time when a worried-looking official put his head round the door and informed Councillor Archer: 'We're waiting to put the curtain up.' Archer flicked him a glance, said, 'Give us another five minutes' and returned to his champagne.
Along with his new grandiose existence, he had made an astonishing and rather grubby offer to his fellow GLC councillors by way of augmenting the family income which, to a large extent, depended on Mary's modest salary as an Oxford college lecturer. In exchange for 10 per cent of the take, he would fill in their expense sheets. A number agreed.
Over the years Archer has made threats of a legal nature whenever this has been raised.
When his biographer Michael Crick began asking councillors about this he received an angry letter from Archer threatening instant legal action if this line of inquiry was continued.
Crick refused to crack and did continue. He obtained confirmation from 24 former GLC councillors and the facts went into his 1995 book. From Lord Archer - ennobled in 1992 - there was silence.
Also in his GLC years, Archer fiddled his expenses while working as a fundraiser for the United Nations Association, mainly involving meals and travel. In all he made 69 false claims and later had to pay back around [pounds sterling]150.
THE story appeared in print during the Louth by-election.
Archer sued, thereby effectively stemming further publication, and won the seat. He dropped the action, paying all costs, before it got to court.
Then there was the strange business of the shoplifting allegations.
It happened in 1975 when Archer was in Canada giving evidence in a fraud case involving a firm called Aquablast, in which the compulsive chancer had invested [pounds sterling]427,000 and lost the lot, leaving him close to bankruptcy.
It was this, of course, which led him to resign the Louth seat and drove him in desperation to write his first novel, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less.
One lunchtime during the Toronto hearing, police detained Archer on suspicion of shoplifting. He had been arrested at Simpson's store in possession of three suits, but was subsequently released without charge.
Twelve years later, two years after Margaret Thatcher had made him deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, the investigative journalist Paul Foot received a document from a former Simpson's employee which purported to be an official company record of the incident. When Foot wrote to Archer enclosing the document, the Tory grandee wrote back: 'I can confirm that I was not involved in any such incident.' Archer had just won his celebrated libel action against the Daily Star and, as a result, Foot acted cautiously. He did not write the story.
It took another eight years for the truth to emerge in Crick's book, but suddenly Archer had changed his story. Far from being 'not involved in any such incident' Archer had been walking off with the suits confused by the 'geography of the shop'.
More recently there has been the case of his share deals in 1994 involving Anglia Television, of which his wife Mary was a director.
This time he has changed his story not once, but twice.
On January 12 that year, Anglia had a board meeting at which it was agreed to accept an offer of more than [pounds sterling]6.50 a share. Mary Archer was present. The next day Lord Archer bought 25,000 Anglia shares, and the following day he bought another 25,000. Both purchases, costing a total of [pounds sterling]242,000, were registered in the name of Broosk Saib, a Kurdish friend of Archer.
On January 18, a takeover was announced and the share price of Anglia shares soared. Within hours Archer had sold the 50,000 shares at a profit of [pounds sterling]77,219. The resulting cheque for that sum, made out to Broosk Saib, was sent to Archer's penthouse.
Two years earlier, Archer had written a formal letter to the board, as the husband of a director, saying: 'I have no Anglia shares and have no intention of buying any in the future.' ARCHER has always maintained he had no prior knowledge of the takeover and that he simply bought the shares on behalf of his friend. The affair has led to two Department of Trade inquiries, both inconclusive.
Last year Archer claimed that he bought the shares after a dinner party at the home of his friend Sir Nicholas Lloyd, the broadcaster and former editor, when small TV company shares were tipped as a good buy. Sir Nicholas immediately pointed out that the dinner party had taken place after the takeover bid for Anglia, not before it.
This month, as the issue raised its head again with Archer seeking the position of Mayor of London, a new story emerged from the great storyteller.
He claimed to have seen the share tipped in the City columns of the Daily Mail.
Now comes news of another lie, one that Archer induced a friend to put on paper in a letter to his lawyers and which might have been crucial in his Monica Coghlan libel action against the Daily Star.
By now, surely, we are entitled to doubt anything he says.
This is the same Jeffrey Archer who, while entertaining a media executive in his suite during a party conference, took a telephone call and asked to be left alone as it was the Prime Minister, John Major, on the line.
The executive made a diplomatic retreat into a colleague's room where the flickering television showed the Prime Minister on the platform, not on the telephone.
In his famous libel action, none of us who were in Court 13 will forget the way Monica Coghlan mimed the thickness of the envelope of money that Archer sent to her via a bagman. Leaning out of the witness box she held her forefinger and thumb an inch apart.
Stuffed with [pounds sterling]50 notes, that certainly would have contained an awful lot more than the [pounds sterling]2,000 that had been mentioned as his proffered sum to help her 'pop abroad'.
Nor can one forget the final, triumphal scenes of the action, the way Jeffrey Archer's left arm slid round the waist of his 'fragrant' wife Mary and guided her towards the jurors so that he could shake every one by the hand as they filed out, having done their duty and awarded him half a million pounds in damages.…