British politician and novelist Jeffrey Archer, having arranged for a friend to rendezvous with a prostitute and give her money to leave the country, says he is misunderstood by those who believe he might have met the woman before. He says he only wanted to help her take a short vacation abroad. Sure, and the Queen Mum was going along to carry her trunk.

England, of course, is a nation of quaint customs, and it may be that giving money to a prostitute does not imply all that it does in America. Nevertheless, Archer's explanation was not well received, and he resigned from his unpaid post as deputy chairman of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party. The scandal should only enhance his career as a novelist—he is the author of the best-selling Kane & Abel as well as the prophetic First Among Equals, which features a member of Parliament who is blackmailed by a prostitute.

In addition to Archer, 46, the major players in the drama are Monica Mary Coghlan, a 35-year-old prostitute known as Debbie to her customers; Aziz Kurtha, 43, a Pakistani lawyer who learned of Archer's alleged dalliances and reportedly tried to peddle the tale for as much as $70,000; and the News of the World, a Rupert Murdoch tabloid that claims to have taped several of Coghlan's conversations. Good folks all around.

It seems that several weeks ago Coghlan began making nervous telephone calls to Archer, warning him that Kurtha had approached several newspapers with the sordid story. Archer insisted that he had never met her. Still, he offered to help her get out of the country, providing she rid herself of the notion that the man she had been entertaining was him. "You'll have to say very firmly that you made a mistake," he told her. They arranged a meeting where an intermediary handed nearly $3,000 to Coghlan. The News of the World was there with a long-lens camera, and Coghlan was wired for sound.

That made for quite a headline: "Tory Boss Archer Pays Off Vice Girl." Archer resigned, claiming, "I have never, repeat never, met Monica Coghlan, nor have I ever had any association of any kind with a prostitute." He said he resigned only because of "lack of judgment," and his wife and two sons stood staunchly behind him, as long-suffering families of politicians usually do.

Britain's male politicians are a strange breed where sex is involved. They seem to want it all the time, but rarely with their own wives. The vigilant British press, with little else to write about except economic downturns, eagerly awaits any deviation from 19th-century Victorian mores, and often it seems the only way for a politician to escape scandal is to follow the path of the hero in Jeffrey Archer's latest novel, A Matter of Honor. He is celibate.