He was born in the City of London maternity hospital and most of his childhood was spent in the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare. After leaving school with few qualifications he worked in a number of jobs, including training with the Army and Police force, and working as a teacher. He gained a place at Brasenose College, Oxford to study for a one-year diploma in education, though he eventually stayed there for three years. He is not, however, an Oxford graduate.
While at Oxford he was moderately successful in athletics, competing in sprinting and hurdling. He also made a name for himself in raising money for the then little-known charity Oxfam, famously managing to obtain the support of The Beatles in a charity fundraising drive. It was during this period that he met his wife, Mary, a brilliant student who is believed by many to have had a hand in his most successful novels.
After leaving university he continued as a charity fundraiser with varying success. He also began a career in politics, serving as a councillor in London. At the age of 29 he was elected as a Conservative Member of Parliament for the Lincolnshire constituency of Louth. Later, he would claim to have been the youngest MP ever, but he was not even the youngest in the House at the time.
In 1974 Archer became heavily indebted after falling victim to a fraudulent investment scheme involving Aquablast, a Canadian company. Faced with likely bankruptcy, he stood down as an MP at the October 1974 general election, and turned to writing novels. His first novel, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less was a success, and he ultimately avoided bankruptcy. His Kane and Abel proved to be his best-selling novel, reaching number 1 on the New York Times "Bestsellers list." It was made into a successful television series. Archer's literary pretensions were consolidated by his purchase of the Old Vicarage, Grantchester, a house associated with Rupert Brooke.
Archer's political career thrived once he became well-known for his books. He was made Deputy Chairman of the Conservative party by Margaret Thatcher, created a life peer in 1992 by John Major, and was selected by the party as candidate for the London mayoral election of 1999. He was forced to withdraw from the race when it was revealed that he was facing a major court case. Throughout his later career, he was doggedly investigated by the journalist, Michael Crick, who has become famous as Archer's unofficial biographer and nemesis.
On July 19, 2001 Jeffrey Archer was found guilty of perjury and perverting the course of justice. This was in relation to a 1987 libel case in which he was awarded £500,000 damages from the Daily Star when they alleged that he had had sex with a prostitute, Monica Coughlan. Although he won the libel case, the revelation that he had fabricated an alibi in that case led to his later trial and conviction for perjury. These subsequent events cast considerable public doubt on the verdict of the libel case. The most ironic aspect of his trial was that he had fabricated the alibi for the wrong date. He was sentenced to a total of 4 years imprisonment.
In July 2003 he was released on probation, after serving half of his sentence, from Her Majesty's Prison Hollesley Bay, Suffolk. Recently announced government reforms will prevent convicted criminals from serving in the House of Lords and newspapers report that Archer may be stripped of his peerage and title as early as 2005.
See also: Private Eye, List of other novelists