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I was late to my own peerage ceremony.

Readers who are familiar with the Society for Creative Anachronism, where this little faux pas took place, will understand just what a profound breach of etiquette this was.  We're not talking "she threw up on the Queen's tent" bad - the individual who accomplished that particular feat of world class bad manners managed to delay zir own peerage ceremony by about twenty years, and no, I am not exaggerating - but given the importance of a peerage in the SCA, it was pretty bad.

[Digression time:  for readers who've managed to avoid past diaries where I touch on the Medieval Re-Enactment Group That Brought Me Worldwide Fame, No Kidding, Really, Cross My Playtex-Surrounded Heart and Hope to Die, all you need to know is the following:

[A.  The Society for Creative Anachronism is a 50,000 member group that attempts to recreate the Middle Ages and Renaissance as they should have been, not as they were.  That means Crusaders and Muslims don't kill each other, there are neither rats not plagues, women can put on armor and fight, same-sex couples can wear each other's favors in the tourney lists, and pogroms are right out.

[B.  Since the SCA has kingdoms, and kingdoms have royalty, and royalty wants to honor excellence, the Crown has the option of recognizing worthy individuals by making them peers, roughly equivalent to Queen Elizabeth II honoring outstanding achievement by bestowing knighthood on Commonwealth subjects.  

[C.  There are three (3) such bestowed peerages:  the Order of Chivalry for excellence in the martial arts; the Order of the Pelican for hard work and self-sacrifice doing all the behind the scenes work that makes the SCA so much fun, such as running events, doing paperwork, keeping track of awards, and so on; and the Order of the Laurel, for outstanding work as an artisan, researcher, actor, needlework, musician, tailor, illuminator, or any other task that helps recreate medieval arts and sciences.  In addition, peers have to be basically honest, decent, stand-up individuals who share what they know, teach without being bullying, and set an example of what an ideal SCAdian should be.

[D.  I'm a member of the Order of the Laurel.

[E.  There is no E.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled diary, which (you knew this was coming) is not Captain America, Socialist Scum! yet.  Thankyew.  Thankyew veramuch.

As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted by myself, being late to the supreme moment of my life as a SCAdian was not a good idea.  It was also not my fault; I had been sent off to my pre-ceremony vigil by the King and Queen several hours earlier and had been basically cocooned in a hotel suite by friends, well-wishers, and other peers who dropped by to chat, nibble on the excellent spread of food and drink prepared by my friends, congratulate me, and share wisdom like "don't take an apprentice for a year," "learn to serve by leading," and "don't throw up on the Queen's shoes."  

I'm not even sure I was wearing my watch, and I certainly wasn't keeping track of time.  For the first and possibly last time in my life I had actual, real, genuine minions to keep me fed, amused, and otherwise occupied until it was time for the actual ceremony.  It was up to them to make sure that everything was going well and ensure that I didn't attempt to light out for the territories flee the premises before the King and Queen could crown me with the ultimate honor a SCAdian artisan can hope to achieve.

All was going according to schedule until about fifteen minutes after Royal Court was scheduled to start in the hotel ballroom downstairs.  Una had just finished doing my hair and makeup, and Emele and Sarah Rose were helping me into a brand-new and absolutely gorgeous black and yellow gown, when a cell phone rang.  I heard a gasp, and turned to see another of my minions doing a fair imitation of Macauley Culkin in Home Alone.

"Oh my God - all right, tell the herald we'll be down in fifteen minutes - "

"What's going on?" I said, sitting up very straight.  "Who - "

"They just called you into Court - "

"They what?  Peerage ceremonies always come last!  They should be giving out awards of arms, not peerages!"

"I know!" cried the minion.  She'd visibly paled during the phone call, and now was standing helplessly as the rest of her ilk scurried about to gather all the regalia that I was not supposed to see until the ceremony, the banner with my arms, and my father's Bible (cleverly disguised in a chemise binding with laurel wreaths on it) so we could book it downstairs.  "They told us your elevation was near the end of Court, not the beginning.  This is awful!"

"No kidding," I managed, and before I could say another word we were out the door and all but running for elevator bank.

We arrived at the ballroom just as the crowd was cheering another award.  I stood very still, Dad's Bible open to Psalm 139 and tried to breathe normally.  What I was doing was, to quote Vice President Biden, a "big f------ deal," and my heart was pounding triple time as I steeled myself to accept an honor that both recognized my work and enjoined me to be a role model for the rest of the Known World.  

The herald summoned me into Court, my minions processed down the aisle, and I straightened my spine and followed.  I reached the foot of the royal dais and was about to hand my Bible to one of the minions when my herald spoke.

"Your Majesties, accept our apologies for not answering your initial summons."  He paused, a gleam in his eye.  "It seems that in our zeal to make Ellid presentable - "

He paused.  I froze in place.

" - we neglected to make her present.."

It was a good two minutes before the King and Queen stopped laughing.

As I said above, being a peer in the SCA is a really big deal.  It may not make a difference at the local fast food joint (Dunkin' Donuts still charges me the same for a cruller as they ever did) but in my chosen hobby?  Oh yes.  I still teach and write and work as I ever did, but I also now advise the Crown on potential new peers, have the right to take on aspiring artisans to guide their intellectual journey, and can sit inside the list ropes at Crown Tourney to serve as an official witness that the final bouts are clean and honorably fought.  I have a Society-wide reputation, and if I ever move to another Kingdom I'll be expected to take up the same responsibilities after I've settled in and gotten to know people.  

In short, it's not all fun and games, being a peer.

The subject of tonight's diary is also a peer, although not in the SCA.  He was honored for his contributions as a politician and a writer, although both these credentials have been called into question over the years.  He's also done something no SCAdian could, by surviving the sort of legal troubles that would see a SCAdian thrown out of the Known World, ne'er to return.

Jeffrey Archer, bestselling author, British politician, and eventual criminal, was not born into the sort of family that one might expect would produce a future author, let alone future deputy chairman of a major political party or future life peer.  Born at the height of the London Blitz to a journalist mother and a bigamist father, his entire career has been marked by uncertainty, lack of character (both his own and others’), and outright criminality.  An illegitimate brother…a father who lied about his war record and grifted his way through the war…bankruptcy…questionable credentials…a political career characterized by repeated scandals, resignation, and finally a conviction for perjury that sent him to prison for several years….

In all seriousness, Jeffrey Archer’s life is a lot more interesting, and would make a much better novel, than most of the books that have issued forth under his name.

Consider these facts about his early life and education:

-    His mother, a pioneering journalist named Lola Archer, had the ill luck to give birth to him at the height of the London Blitz in 1940.

-    His father, William, who was several decades older than his wife, already had a son named “Jeffrey,” who had been born out of wedlock a few years earlier.  This earlier Jeffrey adopted the name “David Brown” and evidently did not know that he had a younger brother with the same first name until the early 1980’s.

-    If that weren’t bad enough, William Archer, whom his son claimed had been a hero of the Great War, not only wasn’t a war hero, he evidently spent much of the time between 1914 and 1918 in New York, where he made a living conning the rich and traveling on a deceased employer’s passport.

-    Young Jeffrey II, who evidently was a smart but less than scrupulous chip off the old grifter, claimed (falsely) to have won a scholarship to Wellington College (he actually studied at the Wellington School, a different school in a different county).  He followed this up by claiming (falsely) to have studied at Brasenose College, Oxford (he took a teaching course based at Brasenose but never actually registered as an undergraduate), as well as an American school that was actually a bodybuilding club.  To cap his academic career, he then managed to finagle his way onto the Oxford track team even though he was not technically eligible.

-    He paid for his time at Oxford as a paid fundraiser for Oxfam.  His most notable recruitees were, and I swear I am not making this up, the Beatles, whom he invited to appear at Brasenose.  I cannot possibly improve on the following eyewitness account of this curious non-concert by critic Sheridan Morley, then a student at Merton College:

At the interval I went to the toilet, and there beside me was Ringo Starr. He asked if I knew this Jeffrey Archer bloke. I said everyone in Oxford was trying to work out who he was. Ringo said: 'He strikes me as a nice enough fella, but he's the kind of bloke who would bottle your piss and sell it.'
Bottle your piss and sell it.  Doesn’t that sound like the ideal political candidate?  It certainly did to the future peer, who spent his first years after university dipping his toe into Conservative Party politics, working as a charity fundraiser, and running an art gallery.  He also became embroiled in a legal case when rumors of financial improprieties in his fundraising business hit the press.  Archer, who was surprisingly touchy about his reputation, brought suit against the alleged source of the rumors.  The case settled out of court, and after the putative accuser tried unsuccessfully to persuade the local Conservatives that Archer would make a rotten political candidate, Archer ended up as the MP for Louth in December of 1969.

This should have been enough for anyone; Archer was only 29, after all, and it seemed for a while that he had settled down and was flying right.  He opposed capital punishment, supported free TV licenses for senior citizens and free museum passes for all, and was surprisingly popular in his district.  Alas, this promising career came crashing down in the mid-1970’s, when a company he’d invested heavily in went belly up.  If that weren’t bad enough, he was arrested on shoplifting charging during a visit to Toronto to testify in the ensuing court case, although no charges were brought.  He later admitted that yes, he had walked out of a department store with three men’s suits for which he’d neglected to pay…although, once again showing that he was his father’s son, he claimed that this was merely an oversight on his part.  

It gets better.  Oh, it most definitely gets better.

At this point a lesser man would have either given up entirely or retired to a life of quiet desperation working at whatever profession would consent to employ him.  Not Jeffrey Archer, oh no!  He decided to take the raw material of his own life, combine it with a dash of his father’s less savory moments, and write a novel.

The resulting book, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, was a colorful, juicy, slightly ridiculous, and not especially well written saga about an unscrupulous oil man, the men he cheats, a fake Van Gogh, North Sea drilling shares, a fake gallbladder operation, and several equally unrealistic but interesting plot elements.  A surprise success, it not only saved Archer’s finances, it launched him on a career writing equally implausible, equally popular potboilers about unscrupulous businessmen, ambitious immigrants, ruthless politicians, and similar stock characters that seem to have stepped straight out of a Harold Robbins wet dream.  

These books, which Archer claimed involved up to seventeen rewrites apiece, made him rich enough to purchase the former home of Rupert Brooke, the doomed young poet who (unlike William Archer) gave his life on the Western Front during the Great War.  Even better for the former athlete/fundraiser/war baby/politician, his literary works were exactly the sort of racy, spicy, sexy fare that made great miniseries, so naturally several were snapped up by television and radio production companies in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  The most popular, Kane and Abel, hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list, and was made into a miniseries starring 1980’s stalwarts Peer Strauss and Sam Neill.  Another, much more British book, First Among Equals, ended up as a ten part miniseries on Granada TV, which is more than be said for anything Rupert Brooke ever wrote.

Best of all, success as a novelist lead directly to a second career in politics.  Archer, who was still surprisingly popular as Conservative speaker for all his legal troubles, was appointed deputy party chair by Margaret Thatcher herself in 1985 over the objections of several other prominent party members.  Their doubts as to Archer’s suitability proved well founded, as he promptly shoved his foot into his mouth and choked on it during a live radio broadcast by claiming that a large number of the then-record 3.4 million unemployed were actually too lazy to work and preferred living on the dole to supporting themselves.

This in and of itself should have been enough to have forced Archer from power.  However, thanks to his network of party connections, Archer stayed on as deputy party chair for another year, until, like one of his own characters, he was accused of paying a prostitute to go aboard.  The subsequent investigation, and libel suit against the tabloid Daily Star, were far more entertaining than most of Archer’s books; Archer began by claiming that giving £50,000 to a call girl was the act of a philanthropist, not a man with a failing marriage.  Even better, the judge’s instructions to the jury included the following gems, which I swear on my father’s grave I am not making up:

Remember Mary Archer [Jeffrey’s wife] in the witness-box. Your vision of her probably will never disappear. Has she elegance? Has she fragrance? Would she have, without the strain of this trial, radiance? How would she appeal? Has she had a happy married life? Has she been able to enjoy, rather than endure, her husband Jeffrey?
Is he in need of cold, unloving, rubber-insulated sex in a seedy hotel round about quarter to one on a Tuesday morning after an evening at the Caprice?
These fascinating questions, which are unique in the annals of British jurisprudence as far as I have been able to determine, somehow were enough to convince a jury that Archer deserved half a million pounds from the Daily Star.  Even though it later came out that Archer had blatantly perjured himself during his testimony, it was the Star’s editor who was sacked shortly after the trial, as the publishers were unwilling to bring yet another potentially costly suit against the seemingly invincible Mr. Archer.

Archer’s subsequent career has been a curious mix of bestselling author (eighteen novels, three plays, nine books of short stories, and a three volume memoir that have sold a combined 250 million copies worldwide) and Conservative politician/pundit (a stint raising funds for the relief of the Iraqi Kurds, although the vast majority of the money allegedly earned by Archer’s charity concerts and fundraising actually gave from the British government; a failed candidacy for mayor of London that ended when his perjury in the 1980’s libel trial was exposed; allegations of insider dealings in the stock market; law and order pronunciamentos alternating with support for gay rights and continued opposition to capital punishment).  He was named a life peer in 1992 by John Major, becoming Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare, and that, plus the immense riches brought by churning out novels that are disposable but marginally entertaining crap even after seventeen drafts, plus Rupert Brooke's former home, should have been enough for anyone.

Anyone but Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, who capped a career that is practically the dictionary definition of "colorful" by being convicted of perjury and sentenced to jail for two years.

It all started in 1999, when Archer ran for mayor of London.  Despite support from Margaret Thatcher, John Major, and several other leading Conservatives, he was forced from the race when a London tabloid published a story claiming that he had indeed committed perjury during the 1987 Daily Star lawsuit.  After an exceptionally entertaining trial for, no lie, “perjury and perverting the course of justice,” Archer was convicted in 2001and sentenced to four years in prison.  Along the way he starred in his own play,The Accused, which included the novel feature of polling the audience each night to determine if his character was guilty.  

He was also allowed to be absent from the trial for a day to attend his mother’s funeral, showing that British justice is, if nothing else, compassionate.

Archer only served two years of his sentence, although he was suspended from his cricket club for several years, was expelled from the Conservative Party for five years, and had to repay half a million pounds to the Daily Star.  He also managed to hang onto his peerage since it was considered “an honour under the Crown” that would require an act of Parliament to be rescinded, so he’s still entitled to a seat in the House of Lords.

One would think that this would finally, finally be enough to force Jeffrey Archer into a quiet retirement…but no.  Not only has he continued to churn out lousy books (including a current series that is projected to continue until 2020 or thereabouts), he allegedly helped to finance an attempted coup against the government of, of all places, Equatorial Guinea (????).  He was also lampooned in the media as a misunderstood secret agent/superhero/”overall thoroughly good chap” in a BBC drama called Jeffrey Archer:  The Truth in 2002, wherein it was alleged that far from being a terrible author, serial perjurer, employer of call girls, and crooked politician, he had actually spent most of the last thirty years selflessly saving Britain from her enemies.

Like I said, his life is much, much more entertaining than any of his books.


So…have you read a Jeffrey Archer book?  Watched a miniseries based on one?  Followed his career in politics?  Wondered if he’s in need of cold, unloving, rubber-insulated sex in a seedy hotel?  Unburden your souls, my friends, and share….


Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule:

DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
2:00 PM What's on Your E-Reader? Caedy
2:00 PM Bibliophile's Wish List Caedy
Sun (occasional) 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
Bi-Monthly Sun Midnight Reading Ramblings don mikulecky
MON 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery michelewln, Susan from 29
Mon 11:00 PM My Favorite Books/Authors edrie, MichiganChet
TUES 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left bigjacbigjacbigjac
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM All Things Bookstore Dave in Northridge
Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
Wed 2:00 PM e-books Susan from 29
Wed 8:00 PM Bookflurries Bookchat cfk
THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
alternate Thursdays (on hiatus) 11:00 PM Audiobooks Club SoCaliana
FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
alternate Fridays 8:00 PM Books Go Boom! Brecht
Fri 10:00 PM Slightly Foxed -- But Still Desirable shortfinals
SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
Sat 12:00 PM You Can't Read That! Paul's Book Reviews pwoodford
Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Sat Mar 15, 2014 at 06:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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