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Archer: The next chapter

Jeffrey Archer has been released from prison
With its catalogue of power and patronage, sex and skulduggery, Jeffrey Archer's life story could come straight from the pages of his own bestselling novels.

Jeffrey Archer's fall from grace was spectacular. He was the favourite in the running for Mayor of London, and had been the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party.

He was a millionaire author and his two luxurious homes, a penthouse on the Thames, and a sprawling rectory in Cambridgeshire, were lined with priceless art masterpieces.

The grand and the good flocked to his parties, where they feasted on Krug champagne and shepherds pie.

But his privileged lifestyle came to an abrupt halt in 2001, when Archer was convicted of perjury and perverting the course of justice. He was given a four-year prison sentence.

Most courtroom stories would conclude with this verdict, but Lord Archer is no ordinary convict, and has proved able to stir up controversy and keep the media wheels greased, even from his cell.

As Tory Deputy-Chairman
He appealed to have his sentence reduced on the grounds of an "unbalanced" trial, but this was rejected by three judges.

More time behind bars, however, gave the author time to pen a new tome, this one a memoir based on his first few weeks at the high-security Belmarsh Prison in London.

In it, Archer included his new experiences of dealing with fellow inmates and officers, and this new narrative territory secured him a £10m book deal.

Archer's riches always set him apart from other prisoners, and when he moved to open prison, his Jaguar became a regular sight on his journeys from North Sea Camp to his day job at the Theatre Royal, Lincoln.

"Extremely upset"

Prison chiefs tolerated the sight of the Jag stopping outside the Chinese takeaway on the way home, but they also spotted it parked outside a Lincoln restaurant, with Archer, a senior prison officer and a policewoman having lunch inside.

The inmate had already blotted his copybook by attending a party at the home of former minister Gillian Shephard without permission, and the prison authorities moved him to the more secure Lincoln Prison.

In prison at Hollesley Bay
Mary Archer reported at the time that her husband was "extremely upset", but even she admits that he has long had "a talent for inaccurate précis".

Back in the 1970s, Jeffrey Archer was a young, ambitious businessman, with his eyes on government.

There were questions over the academic qualifications that won him a place at an Oxford college, but he gained both the place, and an extremely able wife.

Archer's power to convince worked its magic, and by 1969, he was the youngest MP in the House of Commons. But a failed business deal took him to the edge of bankruptcy, and his wife was expecting a child.

Archer resigned from Parliament and picked up his pen. Within three months, his debut novel, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, was on the shelves and a bestseller.

His efforts to keep the money rolling in for the Conservatives were rewarded in 1985, when Mrs Thatcher made him the party's deputy chairman. And his novels were rolling off the shelves, bringing him a personal fortune of more than £60m.

Ted Francis admitted to providing false alibi
But Archer's mastery of fiction and timing was never so crucial as in 1987, when the Daily Star accused him of first sleeping with, then paying off, prostitute Monica Coghlan.

Archer's vigorous denials as well as the presence of the "fragrant" Mary at his side, convinced the judge of his innocence, and Archer donated his record-breaking £500,000 damages to charity.

A letter written at the time by his friend, Ted Francis, gave Archer an alibi for the night in question, but was never used during the trial. The letter became significant only 12 years later, when Francis admitted its contents were false.

Mayoral ambitions

By then, Archer was richer, more influential and, thanks to a 1992 peerage from John Major, a lord to boot.

He had weathered accusations of insider trading with Anglia shares when his wife was a company director - on this rare occasion he admitted to "making a mistake".

He was also the favoured Tory candidate for the new post of London Mayor. But Ted Francis had fallen out his with his old friend and decided he "disapproved of the idea".

With Mary at his mother's funeral
The media were only too happy to hear from Francis, and Lord Archer was once again on the front page.

Retribution was swift. He was expelled from the Conservative Party in 2000, with then leader William Hague claiming "this is the end of politics for Jeffrey Archer".

And the following year, this man used to sipping his Krug was receiving his uniform and making his way to the cells.

But Jeffrey Archer's ability to rise like a phoenix from the ashes is legendary, and he has already created an opportunity out of disaster.

His memoir from behind the Belmarsh bars is a recent bestseller, and his confinement has given him the chance to charge his already phenomenal batteries and plan his next move.

In Jeffrey Archer's dramatic life story, there will surely be another chapter.