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Saturday, 20 November, 1999, 23:21 GMT
Profile: Jeffrey Archer
Archer: A controversial figure

Jeffrey Archer has always been one of the most colourful characters in modern British politics.

His withdrawal from the race to become London's mayor will come as no surprise to many of his critics, and even some of his friends.

Lord Archer achieved fame through his novels - racy stories of corruption, intrigue and political skulduggery, which became best- sellers and made him a millionaire.

He become an author almost by accident, and certainly out of financial need.

He was a rising young Conservative MP in 1974 when he invested almost 500,000 in a fraudulent company.

He subsequently lost all the money, and, facing financial ruin, resigned from Parliament and started writing.

International best-sellers

The first of his books, Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less, was produced in 10 weeks and proved an immediate success, saving him from bankruptcy.

It was followed in quick succession by a string of other best-sellers.

By 1985, his books had sold 25 million copies and made him a very rich man.

But Archer had not given up the political ambitions which had made him a local councillor at the age of 26, and an MP at 29.

His House of Commons career had ended, but he continued to work for the Conservative Party, and in 1985 Mrs Thatcher rewarded him with the job of deputy chairman of the party.

'I am not a liar'

After only a year at Conservative Central Office, disaster struck when a newspaper revealed that he had tried to pay a prostitute 2,000. Within hours, Archer resigned as deputy chairman.

The following year he sued a newspaper which had followed up the allegation about the prostitute.

In court, he said he had never met the woman, but arranged for a friend to give her the money to discourage her from fabricating a scandal about him.

Archer said he had been set up, and told the jury: "I made a fool of myself, but I am not a liar." He was awarded record libel damages of 500,000 which he donated to charity.

After the case, he continued his career as a best-selling author, and remained a loyal Conservative.

At the party conference in 1990 - when Mrs Thatcher was still prime minister - he launched a strong attack on some Conservative MPs who, he said, spent their time speculating about the leadership when they should be out campaigning.

Within weeks Mrs Thatcher resigned, and there was speculation that his loyalty to her would be rewarded with a peerage, or at least a knighthood.

Rough campaign

He was back in the news at the end of the Gulf War, when he played a major part in organising a pop concert at Wembley which raised millions of pounds for Kurdish refugees.

In 1994, questions were raised about Lord Archer's dealings in Anglia Television shares.

He denied claims of insider dealing but accepted he had made serious errors of judgement.

More recently he had said if people only wanted a saint for mayor of London, he was not the man for the job.

There were plenty of critics, some within the Tory party, who were prepared to voice their doubts in public, and Lord Archer must have known he faced a rough campaign.

But he had insisted he was man tackle the capital's many problem, especially transport.

But in the end, his controversial past caught up with him and cut short another attempt to return to the political limelight.

It is just as well, he may think, that the novels are still selling well.


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See also:
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Archer statement in full
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
A mayor for the millennium
Links to other UK Politics stories are at the foot of the page.