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Archer Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Tracking Jeffrey Archer
Michael Crick at The Old Bailey
Tracking Jeffrey Archer

Jeffrey Archer's life story is a fascinating tale of success and failure. Panorama reporter and Archer biographer, Michael Crick, explains the allure of the disgraced author and former politician.

I have observed Jeffrey Archer since I was 15. In 1973 my father came down one Saturday morning, and asked if I had seen this big feature in the Guardian about a crooked Tory MP who raised money for charities and took a large percentage.

Jeffrey Archer and the Beatles
Jeffrey Archer fundraising for Oxfam with the Beatles
It was a fascinating profile by Terry Coleman. I now realise that most of the claims that Archer was making in the article were false, but nonetheless it was extraordinary how he'd apparently introduced the Beatles to Harold Macmillan, and raised all this money for Oxfam when he was a student.

I've always been fascinated in people who could have more than one career at once. So I took notice when he had to leave politics, and became an author. I read his first two books when they came out. I know it's an unfashionable thing to say, but I've always enjoyed reading his books.

Book deal


Archer is a very colourful character, a man of huge positive qualities, but also deeply flawed

Michael Crick
I had interviewed him a few times for television, and followed him in by-elections. Then one day my agent asked me if I had ever thought of writing a book about Jeffrey Archer.

I had, but somebody else had done one. I felt that once somebody else had done one, it would be very difficult to do no matter how good the first one was. But my agent said there would not be a problem with that.

Archer is a very colourful character, a man of huge positive qualities, but also deeply flawed, and that was clear when I started the book. It was also clear that he was probably a pretty dodgy character, although I didn't really at that stage have any hard evidence.

The book took three years to write and came out in 1995. I've been doing it on and off since, and it has gone into three editions.

Mystery Man

The main thing about Archer was all these mysteries surrounding his life and unanswered questions. I managed to answer many of these, but then other puzzles come along.

And there still are lots of outstanding mysteries, and I suspect it is a subject that I will be lumbered with for the rest of my life. But I've certainly had a lot of fun doing it.

The really big question about Archer is, given the successive examples of the evidence of his dishonesty that recur every 5 or 6 years, why did really big people still tolerate and promote him?

Jeffrey Archer and John Major
John Major rewarded Archer with a peerage
Three successive leaders of the Conservative party supported Archer. Thatcher made him Deputy Chairman of the Conservative party, Major made him a member of the House of Lords, and Hague supported him as a Tory candidate for Mayor of London and even called him a candidate of "probity and integrity".

Any one of those three was surely aware of all the evidence that Archer was a deeply dishonest man, a deeply untrustworthy man, and a man of appalling judgement. And yet they were prepared to go along with him.


Archer is not going to be a very significant figure in the future

Michael Crick
The answers to all of that are complex. The Tory faithful loved him, he was very good at raising money for the party, and when it came to being Mayor of London he was really the only person who looked like he might have a possibility of winning for the Conservatives.

Archer's life is a commentary on our times. In himself, Archer is not going to be a very significant figure in the future. His books are not great works of literature, he's not politically a significant figure, and there are no great achievements to his name.

But what his life does show is the misjudgements of those around him. Not only did senior politicians go to his parties, but also other luminaries such as Archbishops of Canterbury used to regularly go.

Everybody used to go to his parties. And yet many of these people knew that this was a pretty dodgy chap.

The bully

Archer used to use his connections to frighten people off. He has bullied journalists over the years, particularly young journalists and female journalists.

Mark Mardell
Mark Mardell faced the wrath of Archer
And if you've got this man saying I know the Director-General of the BBC personally, or I know your editor personally, it can put some people off asking tough questions.

On one occasion he berated my Newsnight colleague Mark Mardell over the fact that Newsnight a few days before had interviewed me about Archer.

He said this was terribly unfair, and that when he was Mayor of London he would make it clear who was boss, and that the writs would start flying the day he was elected.

I think journalists have been guilty of giving him too easy a time at times. I think it is one of the reasons why he survives.

Links to more Archer stories are at the foot of the page.


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