Archer, Jeffrey (Howard) 1940-

views updated

ARCHER, Jeffrey (Howard) 1940-

PERSONAL: Born April 15, 1940, in Mark, Somerset, England; son of William (a professional soldier) and Lola (a journalist; maiden name, Cook) Archer; married Mary Weeden (a chemist), 1966; children: two sons. Education: Attended Brasenose College, Oxford, 1963-66; received diploma from Oxford University. Politics: Conservative. Hobbies and other interests: Theater, watching Somerset play cricket, art, auctioneering for charity.



ADDRESSES: Home—93 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TY, England. Agent—St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, 10010.


CAREER: Writer. Conservative member of British Parliament, 1969-74; deputy chair, British Conservative Party, 1985-86. Member, Greater London Council for Havering, 1966-70.


MEMBER: Royal Society of Arts (fellow), Oxford University Athletics Club (president, 1965), Somerset Amateur Athletics Association (former president), Marylebone Cricket Club.


AWARDS, HONORS: Created Life Peer, 1992.


WRITINGS:

NOVELS

Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1976.

Shall We Tell the President?, Viking (New York, NY), 1977.

Kane and Abel, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1980.

The Prodigal Daughter, Linden Press (New York, NY), 1982.

First among Equals, Linden Press (New York, NY), 1984.

A Matter of Honor, Linden Press (New York, NY), 1986.

As the Crow Flies, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.

Honor among Thieves, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993, published as Honour among Thieves, HarperCollins (London, England), 1993.

The Fourth Estate, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.

The Eleventh Commandment, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.

Sons of Fortune, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2003.


"PRISON DIARY" TRILOGY

A Prison Diary, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2003.

Purgatory, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Heaven, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2004.


SHORT STORIES

A Quiver Full of Arrows, Linden Press (New York, NY), 1982.

A Twist in the Tale, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1989.

(Editor, with Simon Bainbridge) Fools, Knaves, and Heroes: Great Political Short Stories, Norton (New York, NY), 1991.

Twelve Red Herrings, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.

The Collected Short Stories, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.

To Cut a Long Story Short, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.


FOR CHILDREN

By Royal Appointment, Octopus (London, England), 1980.

Willy Visits the Square World, Octopus (London, England), 1980.

Willy and the Killer Kipper, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1981.

The First Miracle, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.


PLAYS

Beyond Reasonable Doubt (produced on London's West End, 1987), Samuel French (London, England), 1989.

(With others) Gemma Levine's Faces of the '80s, Collins (New York, NY), 1987.

Exclusive, produced on London's West End, 1989.

The Accused (produced at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, 2000), Methuen (London, England), 2000.


ADAPTATIONS: Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less was adapted for British television, serialized on British radio, and made into a sound recording; Kane and Abel was made into a miniseries for Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS-TV), 1985. Steven Spielberg purchased the film rights to A Matter of Honor.


WORK IN PROGRESS: Mallory (novel); Mallory: Walking off the Map (screenplay).


SIDELIGHTS: It has been said that Jeffrey Archer's career is reflected in his fiction—or, in some cases, that his fiction is reflected in his career. Both have attracted much public attention and have become the center of much controversy. A man of boundless energy—at Oxford University, he was a world-class sprinter, representing Great Britain in international competition—Archer walked the corridors of power with England's politicians after becoming the youngest member of the House of Commons in 1969, being appointed deputy chairman of the Conservative Party in 1985, and elevated to the House of Lords in 1992. He has also earned a reputation as a popular author in both England and America: A writer for Books magazine declared Archer to be "Britain's top-selling novelist." Bill Bryson, writing for New York Times Magazine, commented that "The great contradiction of Jeffrey Archer's life is that the one thing he has tried hardest to do—become a successful politician—is the one thing he has most signally failed to accomplish." His writing, however, tells a different story: all his short stories and novels have been international best sellers.

Archer founded his own company, Arrow Enterprises, after leaving university. Drawing on his experiences in fundraising and public relations for the university as well as his own tremendous energy, he quickly earned a fortune. He once commented: "I think energy is a God-given gift, in the way the ability to play a violin, the ability to sing, the ability to paint is a gift. People underestimate energy. If you have one gift plus energy, you'll go to the very top. I've always said the formula is: one gift plus energy, you'll be a king; energy and no gift, you're a prince; a gift and no energy, you're a pauper. I think energy is much underestimated. You will see it in the truly successful. It's the one thing Maria Callas, Pablo Picasso, and Margaret Thatcher have in common."


In 1969, Archer put his money to work by running for, and winning by a landslide, a seat in Parliament. Then only twenty-nine years old, he took his place in the House of Commons as one of its youngest members. For five years he served as a Conservative politician, enjoying political power and personal wealth. In 1974, however, Archer's dream of a political career fell apart. He had borrowed over 250,000 pounds sterling and invested it in a Canadian industrial cleaning company called Aquablast. The directors of the company embezzled the funds and Aquablast collapsed with over eight million dollars in debts. "I lost every penny," Archer told Bryson. "The shares were 3.20 pounds on one day and seven pence the next day. I never had a chance." Although Archer was a victim of the fraud, he felt obliged to not seek reelection and to devote himself to repaying his debts of 620,000 dollars. He left Parliament, borrowed a room in Oxford, and went to work writing a book loosely based on his experiences.


Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less tells about four men—a doctor, a college professor, an art dealer, and a member of the aristocracy—who invest a million dollars in a company set up to exploit oil in the North Sea. The businessperson who runs the company proves to be dishonest, however, and the members of the quartet determine to get their money back by cheating him in return. Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less went on to become an instant best seller in the United States (where it was first published) after having been turned down by a dozen British publishers. Its success surprised Archer, among others, and he once commented that he had "absolutely" no previous experience as a writer and no previous ambitions to become an author. "I'd been to university and was certainly educated, but I'd never done any writing at all, which makes me think that probably there are a lot of storytellers out there, or, more important, people who could do a second career and haven't thought about it. . . . I am by nature a person who enjoys other people's company. But I didn't mind being on my own during that time, because I needed to readjust, and I needed to put some work in to make up for my own stupidity."


Although Not a Penny More did not earn enough to pay off all Archer's debts, its success encouraged him to write more. Shall We Tell the President?, Archer's second novel, did not make the best-seller lists in the United States, but it did generate a great deal of controversy. Set in the early 1980s, it tells of a plan to assassinate President Edward Kennedy. American reviewers were outraged by what they perceived as Archer's callousness. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, President John F. Kennedy's widow, resigned her position as an editor with Viking, although she had no direct connection with the book. "The new editions in the bookshops," Archer once commented, "have Florentyna Kane"—the heroine of his novel The Prodigal Daughter—"as the president, not Edward Kennedy." Skillful marketing of the book and its paperback and movie rights netted Archer around 750,000 dollars—enough to pay off all his debts.


Archer's next novel, Kane and Abel, is also partially based on real people. It tells the story of William Kane, a Boston banker, and Abel Rosnovski, a Polish immigrant and hotelier, and their ferocious hatred for each other. Kane earns Rosnovski's hostility when his bank withholds crucial help from the Pole's American benefactor after the stock market crash of 1929. The benefactor then commits suicide, and Rosnovski launches a vendetta against Kane that lasts for decades. "I met two such men in New York," Archer once said. "They were very close friends, unlike Kane and Abel, who were enemies. But they came from totally different backgrounds. One was a Polish aristocrat, and the other was one of America's most successful multimillionaires. They both told me their [stories]. I was quite interested in that, but I thought it would be much more interesting if they were deadly enemies. So I wrote the book with them as background material, but my own story." Kane and Abel sold more than a quarter million copies in hardcover and eight times that in paperback.

The Prodigal Daughter, a sequel about Rosnovski's daughter, followed Kane and Abel in 1982. It tells how Florentyna Rosnovski—now married to Kane's son Richard—becomes the first woman president of the United States. "I wanted to write the story of the first woman president of the United States," Archer once admitted. "I wanted an Englishman to write it, so that the Americans would realize that we're still awake over here. And you must remember that it was written some time before Geraldine Ferraro was chosen to be a vice-presidential candidate [in the 1984 election]. People laughed at me to begin with. They said it could never happen." However, like Kane and Abel, The Prodigal Daughter topped best-seller lists in Great Britain and the United States.


Archer established a precedent in The Prodigal Daughter by creating two versions of the story: one for his British audience and another for his American fans. For instance, he made changes in the novel to simplify the American political system. "The British, of course," he once explained, "find reading The Prodigal Daughter a fairly simple way of learning about the American system."


More sweeping changes are apparent in the two versions of Archer's First among Equals, which tells about the competition between four British candidates for the office of Prime Minister. One of the main characters in the British version of the book is almost totally absent in the American counterpart, and each version of the book has a different prologue and ending. "The Americans do seem interested," once commented. "They have a desire to learn about other countries. First among Equals is a very simple way of understanding our strange parliamentary system."


As the Crow Flies tells the story of Charlie Trumper, a man of working-class origins who serves in World War I and then rises to become the founder and head of a chain of department stores. Ken Gross, reviewing the book for People, praised Archer's choice of theme and his execution of it. The author "doesn't possess the prose skills of a Fitzgerald or the thundering moral outrage of Dostoevsky. But he tells a nice story." The reviewer concluded that the novel "is like a long, languid, comforting soak in a warm tub." Maggie Scarf, writing in the New York Times Book Review about the same book, made a similar comment: "If [Archer's] writing does appear somewhat naive at times . . . it nevertheless conveys the message that what is right will be rewarded and what is evil will inevitably be punished." "Jeffrey Archer may not be portraying the world as it is," she concluded, "but he is giving us an uncomplicated view of life that was deeply comfortable and gratifying. Archer's simpler world is, in many ways, far preferable to the one we inhabit."


In Honor among Thieves, published in England as Honour among Thieves, Archer tried his hand at the international spy-novel genre. The book's complicated plot focuses on Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's plan to steal the original Declaration of Independence and burn it on live television. Sent to foil Hussein's plot are a Yale University law professor Scott Bradley and model-turned-Mossad agent Hannah Kopec. Simon Louvish, in a review of Honour among Thieves for New Statesman and Society, asserted that the book "appears to have been written by a committee of ten year olds as an assignment" and accused Archer of maintaining some pulp magazine prejudices. "But who needs the muse," he concluded, "if the cash tills sing so well unaided?" On the other hand, Gene Lyons stated in Entertainment Weekly that in Honor among Thieves, Archer "has an undeniable flair for . . . ingeniously plotted, grandiose tales of derring-do." However, he also complained that the story is too formulaic. Archer, however, described his method of writing fiction. "I'm a storyteller," the author once said. "I never know what's going to be in the next line, the next paragraph, or the next page. And if I did, you would. If I don't know what's on the next page, how can you know?"


Archer's success in writing helped bring him back into politics. In 1985, Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of Great Britain and a reputed Archer fan (as well as a main character in First among Equals), appointed the author to the post of deputy chair of the Conservative party. A purely honorary job, the position nonetheless recognized Archer's devotion to the Conservatives and exploited his huge popularity and his fund-raising prowess.


Unfortunately by late 1986, Archer was embroiled in the first of a series of scandals that would shadow him through the remainder of the century and also put an end to his political career. Despite lawsuits, an arrest, and other unwelcomed notoriety, Archer also managed to publish several novels. His The Fourth Estate was praised by Entertainment Weekly reviewer Rhonda Johnson as a story that "turns raw male ambition into fast and furious fun," with the critic noting the close resemblance of the two leads to real-life moguls Rupert Murdoch and the late Robert Maxwell. With The Eleventh Commandment ("thou shalt not get caught"), Archer's tenth novel, CIA assassin Connor Fitzgerald kills a Colombian presidential candidate, sparking a chain of events that could lead to a new Cold War. The focus "is on global politics, with all the double-dealing and skullduggery inherent in that arena," as Booklist critic George Cohen noted. In following Fitzgerald through a complex maze of conspiracy, disguise, and danger, a Kirkus Reviews contributor dubbed the book "Archerland Deluxe." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly, while noting the book's "occasional giddiness," said, "From the first line . . . Archer . . . navigates a nonstop, rocketing ride." The reviewer added that Archer delivers a "slam-bang climax" in The Eleventh Commandment.

In 2000, Archer's short-story collection To Cut a Long Story Short was published. Several of these stories are based on actual events. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called the work a "collection of fourteen cleverly twisting tales. . . . If most of the stories fail to produce a lasting effect, they are characteristically fluid and occasionally satisfying." Brad Hooper in Booklist called To Cut a Long Story Short "very successful," adding that in this collection the author's "expertise in [short-story writing] is displayed in compelling fashion."


In July of 2001, Archer was served with a four-year jail sentence after being convicted of perjury and perverting the course of justice during a libel trial he had initiated against a British newspaper. He served two years of that sentence before being released and has published three volumes of memoirs about the experience. The first, A Prison Diary, records the weeks he spent with forty-nine other prisoners in the "lifer's wing" in a high-security prison that houses some of Britain's most violent criminals. Locked in a cell for eighteen hours a day under unbearable conditions, he kept his sanity by writing prolifically in his diary. Reviewing the book for the Houston Chronicle, Elizabeth Bennett commented that "Archer's material can't be taken as gospel, of course." As a reviewer for Publishers Weekly pointed out, the author "is a convicted perjurer, and his secondhand stories come from the mouths of murderers and other felons." Purgatory and Heaven complete the period from his transfer from prison to jail and his eventual release on parole in July of 2003.


BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Contemporary Popular Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.



PERIODICALS

Booklist, May 15, 1998, George Cohen, review of The Eleventh Commandment, p. 1563; November 15, 1998, Joe Collins, review of The Collected Short Stories, p. 565; November 15, 2000, Brad Hooper, review of To Cut a Long Story Short, p. 586.

Books, July-August, 1993, pp. 8-9.

Chicago Tribune, August 8, 1982; September 10, 1985; January 3, 1989; August 26, 1994, sec. 3, pp. 1, 4.

Entertainment Weekly, July 30, 1993, Gene Lyons, review of Honor among Thieves, p. 51; June 14, 1996, Rhonda Johnson, review of The Fourth Estate, p. 55.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), September 13, 1986.

Guardian, July 11, 1993, p. 28.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1994, pp. 786-787; May 1, 1998, review of The Eleventh Commandment.

Los Angeles Times, August 19, 1982; October 24, 1982; March 11, 1983; July 21, 1984; January 22, 1989.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 27, 1980.

New Statesman and Society, July 2, 1993, Simon Louvish, review of Honour among Thieves, p. 38; May 10, 1996, Jonathan Sale, review of The Fourth Estate, p. 39.

New York Times, August 30, 1984, Michiko Kakutani, review of First among Equals, p. 21; November 10, 1984, Jennifer Dunning, review of First among Equals, p. 15; October 10, 1985, Joseph Lelyveld, "Tory Plot: Can Life Copy Jeffrey Archer's Fiction?" p. 4; July 30, 1993.

New York Times Book Review, October 23, 1977; May 4, 1980; July 6, 1980; July 11, 1982; November 28, 1982; June 19, 1983; February 19, 1989, p. 23; June 9, 1991, p. 52; August 15, 1993, p. 18; July 7, 1996, p. 15.

New York Times Magazine, November 25, 1990, pp. 35, 75-78.

Observer, September 18, 1988, p. 43; June 9, 1991, p. 59; July 17, 1994, p. 18.

People, August 5, 1991, Ken Gross, review of As the Crow Flies, pp. 25-26.

Publishers Weekly, November 4, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of A Twist in the Tale, p. 72; April 26, 1991, Michele Field, interview, "Jeffrey Archer: The Events of His Life Rival the Circumstances of His Bestselling Novels," pp. 42-43; June 21, 1993, review of Honor among Thieves, pp. 86-87; June 20, 1994, review of Twelve Red Herrings, p. 96; May 4, 1998, review of The Eleventh Commandment, p. 203; October 12, 1998, review of The Collected Short Stories, p. 57; December 11, 2000, review of To Cut a Long Story Short, p. 65; June 16, 2003, review of A Prison Diary, p. 60; May 10, 2004, review of Purgatory, p. 44.

Quill and Quire, May, 1991, p. 29.

Spectator, July 10, 1993, p. 31; July 16, 1994, p. 28.

Time, July 28, 1986, John Skow, review of Matter of Honor, p. 64; November 10, 1986, Sara C. Medina, "More Scandalous than Fiction," p. 50; July 26, 1993, John Skow, review of Honor among Thieves, p. 72.

Times (London, England), October 27, 1986.

Times Literary Supplement, September 10, 1976; October 28, 1977; November 21, 1980; December 5, 1986; June 28, 1991, p. 18.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 27, 1980.

Washington Post, March 7, 1980; April 16, 1986; July 27, 1986; January 26, 1989.

Washington Post Book World, July 23, 1982; August 5, 1984.


ONLINE

Houston Chronicle.com, http://www.chron.com/ (September 19, 2003), Elizabeth Bennett, "Prison Offers New Material for Writer."*

About this article

Archer, Jeffrey (Howard) 1940-

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article