By AUDREY WOODS
LONDON – He couldn’t have written it better himself.
Best-selling novelist and fallen politician Jeffrey Archer, whose public life has been a series of cliffhangers, was charged today with perjury, just hours before his stage debut in a production of his new play “The Accused.”
The morning of his final dress rehearsal, Archer, 60, showed up at Wimbledon police station in southwest London in a chauffeur-driven BMW to be charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice for allegedly asking a friend to lie in a libel case 13 years ago. The friend also was charged.
Archer then went straight to the Theatre Royal in Windsor, 25 miles west of London, to join the rest of the cast in a run-through of his play, in which he takes the role of a doctor accused of poisoning his wife.
And in the best show business tradition, when the curtain went up and the lights went on that evening in front of the opening night audience, Archer carried on with the show.
A former legislator and former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, the novelist became Lord Archer in 1992, when he received a life peerage.
A flamboyant character and successful fund-raiser who has maintained a position on the fringes of political power for decades, Archer has bounced back time and again from brushes with scandal, financial ruin and the law.
The libel case resurfaced in November as Archer was making his most recent bid for political office – as Conservative Party candidate for London mayor.
Back in 1987, Archer had filed and won the libel suit after the tabloid Daily Star accused him of hiring a prostitute.
However, under tabloid pressure last year, Archer acknowledged that he had asked his friend Ted Francis to lie in the libel case and say they had dinner together on a night when he was actually dining with a close female friend.
Archer, who is married to a former Cambridge University academic, said the lie was not relevant to the lawsuit and was only intended to protect the woman he was with.
Archer dropped out of the mayoral race and was expelled from the party for five years.
Archer could face a maximum of seven years in jail if convicted of perjury. Attempting to pervert the course of justice can theoretically result in a life sentence, but such a harsh penalty is virtually never imposed.
The audience for “The Accused,” meanwhile, found themselves in possession of the hottest tickets in town.
Producer Lee Menzies said Archer was coping with his new role.
“He’s an actor and he is working very hard and taking it very seriously,” said Menzies. “He’s got a job of work to do, which he’s doing wonderfully well.”
“The play is sold out until Thursday and sales are going very well,” said theater spokesman Craig Titley, who insisted it was a coincidence that opening night fell on the day Archer was charged. “There is no way this is a publicity stunt.”
The play, inspired by the libel affair, was not the first time Archer had drawn on personal experience in his writing.
Archer was elected to the House of Commons at age 29 in 1969, but within five years he had to resign after bad investments drove him to bankruptcy.
That experience inspired his first book, “Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less.”
His third novel, “Kane and Abel” and the U.S. television miniseries it spawned, transformed Archer into a publishing powerhouse. In 1991, he signed a three-book deal with HarperCollins for $30 million.
Archer was scheduled to appear at Bow Street Magistrates Court in central London on Oct. 3.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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