A Prison Diary

( 7 )


On July 19, 2001, following a conviction for perjury, international bestselling author Jeffrey Archer was sentenced to four years in prison. Prisoner FF8282, as Archer is now known, spent the first three weeks in the notorious HMP Belmarsh, a high-security prison in South London, home to murderers, terrorists and some of Britain's most violent criminals.

On the last day of the trial, his mother dies, and the world's press accompany him to the funeral. On returning to prison, ...

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On July 19, 2001, following a conviction for perjury, international bestselling author Jeffrey Archer was sentenced to four years in prison. Prisoner FF8282, as Archer is now known, spent the first three weeks in the notorious HMP Belmarsh, a high-security prison in South London, home to murderers, terrorists and some of Britain's most violent criminals.

On the last day of the trial, his mother dies, and the world's press accompany him to the funeral. On returning to prison, he's placed on the lifer's wing, where a cellmate sells his story to the tabloids. Prisoners and guards routinely line up outside his cell to ask for his autograph, to write letters, and to seek advice on their appeals.

For twenty-two days, Archer was locked in a cell with a murderer and a drug baron. He decided to use that time to write an hour-by-hour diary, detailing the worst three weeks of his life.

When A Prison Diary was published in England, it was condemned by the prison authorities, and praised by the critics.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Archer is sublimely unaware of his own absurdity. He seems surprised to discover that jails are full of criminals, many of whom take drugs, and that the food isn't quite up to the standards of his favorite London restaurant. After his first shower, he complains that Belmarsh prison doesn't have "quite the same facilities" as "my apartment on the Albert Embankment." Who would have guessed it? During his glory days, invitations to Archer's parties were famous for specifying that Krug champagne would be served, and even in jail he can't resist the allure of brand-names. "I start off with something called Coco Pops," he writes of one breakfast. "Not bad, but it's still almost impossible to beat good old Kellogg's cornflakes." — Francis Wheen
Publishers Weekly
Convicted of perjury in 2001, Archer, a bestselling novelist (Sons of Fortune) and member of the British House of Lords, penned this memoir about his first three weeks in prison, focusing on his daily life, the prisoners' lives and the state of the British penal system. An old hand at plotting novels and developing stories, Archer moves his memoir at a captivating pace, a credit to his storytelling skills considering the book's characters are in their cells for 22 hours a day. Deftly using mundane hour logs, he relates the slow passage of time without falling into the trap of recounting events minute by minute. Knowing that his story as a wealthy, educated celebrity with high-powered attorneys pales in comparison, Archer focuses on the sad, strange and even silly tales of his fellow inmates, a cast of hardened criminals and smalltime crooks. Concentrating on others also serves to help Archer avoid extended fits of melodramatic and self-serving prose (as when he compares himself to Oscar Wilde), which occur when he writes about his own case. But balancing this small flaw with his humorous descriptions of prison food and listening to a cricket match that seems as long as his four-year sentence adds a needed bit of humanity to this controversial politician. Of course, some of Archer's observations and the inmates' tales can't be taken as gospel since Archer is a convicted perjurer and his secondhand stories come from the mouths of murderers and other felons. But those caveats do not override the strong narrative and good writing that make this memoir an intriguing and engaging version of the often-trite prison journal. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Best-selling novelist Archer (Sons of Fortune; The Eleventh Commandment) presents his diary of the 22 days he spent in 2001 in HMP Belmarsh, a London prison to which he was sent after a perjury conviction. Belmarsh was the first stopping point for Archer, who was sentenced to four years. Unlike the brutal Nevada prison system depicted by Jimmy Lerner in You Got Nothing Coming, Belmarsh is a relatively civilized place. Archer describes being treated as a celebrity by other prisoners, who seek his autograph and advice, sometimes waiting at the door to his cell. The book is organized chronologically and goes into great detail about the food, living conditions, and plight of fellow inmates. Archer clearly empathizes with the inmates, describing how they ended up with their lengthy sentences, criticizing the lack of rehabilitation opportunities, and noting the impact of drugs. Still, this is less a manifesto for penal reform than a grim travelog, which is especially interesting as a visit to a foreign prison system. Recommended for large collections, especially where Archer's fiction is popular.-Harry Charles, Attorney at Law, St. Louis Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, a.k.a. Prisoner #FF8282, offers his view of life in the slammer after serving the first three weeks of a four-year sentence. Archer, once Conservative candidate for Mayor of London and author of many a popular potboiler (Sons of Fortune, 2003, etc.), scarcely refers to the offense that took him from his Albert Embankment home to HMP Belmarsh, London's high-security prison, along with murderers, drug-dealers, and a football hooligan. He does not mention that his sentence was for perjury, forgery, and obstruction of justice. We hear more about the nasty judge who punished him, though, and he's mightily affronted about his treatment. The accommodations, the bedding, and the food are viewed with disdain and our diarist subsists largely on bottled water, digestive biscuits, and Spam. Clearly, he's a man of elevated sensibilities and, as he would have it, fellow cons generally forswear dirty words in deference to his Lordship. Indeed, according to his report, most hold him in warm esteem. Prisoners, identified by name and crime ("Tony [marijuana only], Billy [murder]," and so forth), they ask for autographs and advice and, in turn, offer protection, extra eats, and doleful tales of stealing, dealing, and buggery. Still a concerned citizen, our Peer notes that "there are going to be some speeches I will have to make should I ever return to the House of Lords." Meanwhile, he knows whom to address. "Are you still paying attention, Home Secretary?" When not concerned with prison procedures or politics outside (or filled with cricket gibberish), this is about the author's persecution. It's prefaced, naturally, by Ernest William Henley's "Invictus." Archer may indeedbe captain of his soul, but mastery of his fate, for a bit, was at the command of one Mr. Justice Potts. Be on notice: Archer is a known recidivist. He will write again.
From the Publisher
Praise for A Prison Diary, Vol. 1:

"A tale that is not only important but true."

The Washington Post

"The finest thing that he's ever written...riveting."

Independent on Sunday (UK)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312330842
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2004
  • Series: A Prison Diary Series, #1
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 582,246
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Archer

Jeffrey Archer was educated at Oxford University. He has served five years in Britain's House of Commons and fourteen years in the House of Lords. All of his novels and short story collections--including And Thereby Hangs a Tale, Kane and Abel, Paths of Glory and False Impression--have been international bestselling books. Archer is married with two sons and lives in London and Cambridge.


Few contemporary writers can lay claim to as many career highs and lows as Jeffrey Archer -- bestselling novelist, disgraced politician, British peer, convicted perjurer, and former jailbird. And whether you view his misfortunes as bad luck or well-deserved comeuppance depends largely on how you feel about this gregarious, fast-talking force of nature.

Born in London and raised in Somerset, Archer attended Wellington School and worked at a succession of jobs before being hired to teach Physical Education at Dover College. He gained admission to Brasenose College at Oxford, where he distinguished himself as a first-class sprinter and a tireless promoter, famously inveigling the Beatles into supporting a fundraising drive he spearheaded on behalf of the then-obscure charity Oxfam.

After leaving Oxford, Archer continued work as a fundraiser and ran successfully for political office. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1969 but was forced to step down in 1974 when he lost his fortune in a fraudulent investment scheme. He turned to writing in order to stave off bankruptcy. His first novel, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, was published in 1976 and became an instant hit. It was followed, in quick succession, by a string of bestsellers, including his most famous novel, Kane and Abel (1979), which was subsequently turned into a blockbuster CBS-TV miniseries.

On the strength of his literary celebrity, Archer revived his political career in 1985, serving as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The following year he was forced to resign over a scandal involving payment to a London prostitute. (He admitted paying the money, but denied vehemently that it was for sex.) In 1987, he sued a British tabloid for libel and was awarded damages in the amount of 500,000 pounds.

Despite the adverse publicity, Queen Elizabeth (acting on the advice of Prime Minister John Major) awarded Archer a life peerage in 1992. The Conservative Party selected him to run for Mayor of London in the 2000 election, but he withdrew from the race when perjury charges were brought against him in the matter of the 1987 libel trial. In 2001, he was convicted and served half of a four-year prison term. (He turned the experience into three bestselling volumes of memoir!) Since his release, Lord Archer has expressed no interest in returning to public office, choosing instead to concentrate on charity work and on his writing career.

Controversy has dogged Archer most of his adult life. Claims still circulate that he falsified his paperwork to gain entrance to Oxford; and, at various other times, he has been accused of shoplifting, padding expenses, insider trading, misappropriation of funds, and financing a failed coup d'état against a foreign government. Needless to say, all this has kept him squarely in the sights of the British tabloids.

Yet, for all the salacious headlines and in spite of lukewarm reviews, Archer remains one of Britain's most popular novelists. His books will never be classified as great literature, but his writing is workmanlike and he has never lost his flair for storytelling. In addition to his novels, he has also written short stories and plays. Clearly, in "art," as in life, Jeffrey Archer has proved himself an affable survivor.

Good To Know

Archer was once a competitive runner and represented Great Britain in international competition.

Regarding the sex scandal that ultimately landed her husband in prison, Lady Mary Archer, the author's wife of 35 years, told reporters that she was "cross" with her husband but that "we are all human and Jeffrey manages to be more human than most. I believe his virtues and talents are also on a larger scale."

The prison where Archer was transferred for carrying out his perjury sentence in October 2001 is a "low security" jail on the Lincolnshire coast, a facility known for raising high-quality pork. According to one authority, "It is considered to be a cushy little place."

After his "fall from grace," Archer counted former Conservative PMs Margaret Thatcher and John Major among his many loyal supporters.

In the 1980s, Archer and his wife, Mary, purchased the Old Vicarage, Grantchester, a house associated with the poet Rupert Brooke.
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    1. Hometown:
      London and the Old Vicarage, Grantchester
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 15, 1940
    1. Education:
      Attended Brasenose College, Oxford, 1963-66. Received a diploma in sports education from Oxford Institute

Read an Excerpt

HEAVEN (Day 89: Monday 15 October 2001)

2.30 pm

The signpost announces North Sea Camp, one mile. As we approach the entrance to the prison, the first thing that strikes me is that there are no electric gates, no high walls and no razor wire.

I am released from my sweat box and walk into reception, where I am greeted by an officer. Mr Daff has a jolly smile and a military air. He promises that after Wayland, this will be more like Butlins. ‘In fact,’ he adds, ‘there’s a Butlins just up the road in Skegness. The only difference is, they’ve got a wall around them.’

Here, Mr Daff explains, the walls are replaced by roll-calls—7.30 am, 11.45 am, 3.30 pm, 8.15 pm and 10.00 pm, when I must present myself to the spur office: a whole new regime to become accustomed to.

While Mr Daff completes the paperwork, I unpack my HMP plastic bags. He barks that I will only be allowed to wear prison garb, so all my T-shirts are taken away and placed in a possessions box marked ARCHER FF8282.

Dean, a prison orderly helps me. Once all my belongings have been checked, he escorts me to my room—please note, room, not cell. At NSC, prisoners have their own key, and there are no bars on the windows. So far so good.

However, I’m back to sharing with another prisoner. My room-mate is David. He doesn’t turn the music down when I walk in, and a rolled-up cigarette doesn’t leave his mouth. As I make my bed, David tells me that he’s a lifer, whose original tariff was fifteen years. So far, he’s served twenty-one because he’s still considered a risk to the public, despite being in a D-cat prison. His original crime was murder—an attack on a waiter who leered at his wife.

4.00 pm

Dean (reception orderly) informs me that Mr Berlyn, one of the governors, wants to see me. He accompanies me to the governor’s Portakabin, where I am once again welcomed with a warm smile. After a preliminary chat, Mr Berlyn says that he plans to place me in the education department. The governor then talks about the problem of NSC’s being an open prison, and how they hope to handle the press. He ends by saying his door is always open to any prisoner should I need any help or assistance.

5.00 pm

Dean takes me off to supper in the canteen. The food looks far better than Wayland’s, and it is served and eaten in a central hall, rather like at boarding school.

6.00 pm

Write for two hours, and feel exhausted. When I’ve finished, I walk across to join Doug in the hospital. He seems to have all the up-to-date gossip. He’s obviously going to be invaluable as my deep throat. We sit and watch the evening news in comfortable chairs. Dean joins us a few minutes later, despite the fact that he is only hours away from being released. He says that my laundry has already been washed and returned to my room.

8.15 pm

I walk back to the north block and report to the duty officer for roll-call. Mr Hughes wears a peaked cap that resembles Mr Mackay’s in Porridge, and he enjoys the comparison. He comes across as a fierce sergeant major type (twenty years in the army) but within moments I discover he’s a complete softie. The inmates like and admire him; if he says he’ll do something, he does it. If he can’t, he tells you.

I return to my room and push myself to write for another hour, despite a smoke-filled room and loud music.

10.00 pm

Final roll-call. Fifteen minutes later I’m in bed and fast asleep, oblivious to David’s smoke and music.

HEAVEN Copyright © 2004 by Jeffrey Archer

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2003


    I found Archer's A PRISON DIARY unexpectedly thoughtful, moving and irresistable. It's prose is quick-witted, and thoroughly enjoyable though the descriptions of the murderers and heinous crimes are disturding at best. I read this book in quick time and have recommended it many times over. Read and learn. Read and enjoy.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2004

    Not What I Expected!

    Come on! Reading this book was like watching paint dry. So he sat next to a murderer for a few minutes. Big deal. He could have told the whole story in 10 pages. Instead he stretched it out to over 200 pages. I am sorry but this book is not worth reading.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2003

    Bravo, Lord Archer!

    This was captivating reading, one of those books I literally couldn't put down until I'd read it through.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2003

    Existing in Prison--With Class

    I had sought and expected the usual Archer novel-a light summer read. Ironically, on the eve of the Blackout of 2003, I found myself absorbing yet another set of unthinkable circumstances. 'A Prison Diary' was a stark surprise-- a riveting, wry and instructive account of Britsh prison life. Archer (at least by his account), adapted to unnatural and confining conditions with class and intelligence. He even managed to produce a revealing book that represents a contribution to British society. Perhaps I'm naive, but I believe him. (I also believe Martha Stewart....)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2003


    I have no opinion regarding the justice of the sentence which sent Jeffrey Archer to prison. Yet, if boredom is a crime then this book unquestionably a felonious act for which the author deserves time.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2013

    Highly recommended.

    A great insight to prison life. After his stay in prison, he could run a prison much better than the authorities on the outside who have no idea of life outside of their privileged upbringings.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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