Friday, March 03, 2006

Mary Archer gets treated nicely

In my piece about Jeffrey Archer on Tuesday (Jeffrey Archer gets beaten up), I quite forgot to mention his charming wife Mary.

Well one does forget, one does. And that, I suspect, is entirely the way she wants it. Mary Archer does not like public attention, and goes to a great deal of trouble to avoid it. She likes to pose as the loyal and long-suffering wife (and mother), keeping the house clean and tidy while Jeffrey does whatever mysterious things he does do. But that, in my opinion, is a grossly over-simplified view of things.

Mary and Jeffrey complement each other rather well. Jeffrey, as we all know by now, is a bit of a rough diamond. He came from a modest background, and at school acquired few formal qualifications. After various jobs he signed up for a one-year diploma in education at Brasenose College, Oxford, stayed there for three years, and likes to claim that he is an Oxford graduate. Which he isn't, in the accepted sense of the term.

With Jeffrey, the truth, even when it is a credit to him, always has to be embroidered and embellished. There are doubtless a thousand examples, but one which sticks in my memory is a newspaper interview which he gave in connection with one of his books.

During this interview, he 'gave the impression', shall we say, that he not only owned the impressive Thames-side penthouse in which the interview took place, but that he also owned the whole block of flats. Afterwards, the reporter checked up to see if this 'impression' was correct. It wasn't.

Mary, on the other hand, has real brains and a real touch of class. She read Chemistry at Oxford, physical chemistry at Imperial College, London (another prestigious institution), and then became a lecturer at Cambridge. She is interested in solar power, and from 1988 to 2000 was Chairman of the National Energy Foundation, which promotes renewable energy. She has also served on a number of other public bodies and commercial companies, including a spell as a non-executive director of Anglia Television; she is currently Chairman of Addenbrooke's National Health Service (NHS) Trust, in Cambridge.

Mary, as I say, much prefers to be out of the limelight. But occasionally she is obliged to come forward to act as her husband's defender.

The most famous such occasion was in 1987. Jeffrey sued the Daily Star for libel, because they claimed that he had consorted with a prostitute. Mary was required to testify as to what a wonderful man he really was.

No one is quite sure what perfume she was wearing that day, but whatever it was it had a powerful effect on the Judge. In his summing up, Mr Justice Caulfield was so impressed by her demeanour that he mused why any husband would seek the company of a prostitute when he had Mrs Archer at home.

'Remember Mary Archer in the witness-box', he urged the jury. 'Your vision of her probably will never disappear. Has she elegance? Has she fragrance? Would she have, without the strain of this trial, radiance?'

The Judge went on to ask why a man would pay for 'cold, unloving, rubber-insulated sex' with a prostitute when he had such a paragon at home. Jeffrey won the case, with £500,000 paid in damages.

Jeffrey also had an alibi for the night in question. Or thought he had. It turned out later that he had cooked up the alibi with an old friend, Ted Francis. At the time, Francis thought he was just helping Jeffrey to save his marriage -- another of those 'gave the impression' things. Unfortunately, a few years later Jeffrey ran for the office of Mayor of London. Francis, so appalled at the thought that Archer might actually get elected, spilt the beans. It also emerged that Jeffrey had, in any case, got the date wrong.

The Daily Star naturally wanted its money back. Jeffrey refused, which eventually led to a charge of perjury, which eventually resulted in a prison sentence. He had to repay the £500,000, plus over a million for the paper's costs.

Mary and Jeffrey live, incidentally, in the Old Vicarage at Grantchester, near Cambridge. This is a building which was made famous by the World War I poet, Rupert Brooke:
Stands the church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

Should you wish to know more about this lovely couple, there are a pair of books which I also forgot to mention on Tuesday. The best biography of Jeffrey is that by Michael Crick, a journalist who has observed the Archer antics for many years.

There is also a biography of Mary by Margaret Crick, the wife of Jeffrey's biographer -- a nice symmetry there, don't you think? As I noted on May 16 2005, Mary did her level best to prevent this book being published, but failed. In the event, however, it proved to be a bit of a disappointment. No real skeletons were exposed to the public gaze.

All of these thoughts came to mind when I opened this week's issue of Private Eye and read the story which I quote below. Private Eye, by the way, is absolutely essential reading if you want to know what is going on in British public life, as opposed to what the spin doctors want you to think. Here's the story:

Much is written about the failings of NHS hospitals -- long waits for appointments, delayed operations and so on, but the Eye has been told of one lady's recent treatment at Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge which gives the lie to such nonsense.

Bitten on the hand by one of her cats last month, the lady drove to the hospital where she was told she could be admitted for debridement of the wound later the same day.

When she returned, rather than enduring the gauntlet of the hospital car park, she was allowed to leave her car outside the entrance. A friendly porter then parked it for her while she was whisked straight into theatre for the cleaning of her small but perfectly-formed puncture wound under general anaesthetic. She was then discharged.

Excellent service all round! Does anyone at the hospital wish to contact the Eye to give us more details of this exemplary treatment? Congratulations are surely in order to the hospital and its Chairman, Lady Archer.


Maxine Clarke said...

I love your blog and read all your postings avidly. This one is brilliant even by your standards. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

You seem to be a tendentious little shit.