Mary Archer: My Life With Jeffrey (C4)

SHE was "poised, very cool, jaw-droppingly beautiful". He was a "golden boy" intent on being a winner as an athlete. It wasn't love at first sight for her. She was intrigued more than bowled over. "I'm not easily bowled over," declared Mary Archer.

She doesn't give much away either. The studious scientist and romantic athlete, who first met at Oxford, are still together after 37 years of marriage. The big question - and one the programme set out to discover - is why she's stuck with disgraced peer Jeffrey Archer through bankruptcy, infidelity and two public trials.

As he's serving time for perjury in a libel trial, his opportunity to comment is limited but Mary talked for the first time about her life in this documentary. There were previously-unseen home movies as well as relatives and friends speaking about the couple. At the end, we were none the wiser as to why she's continued to stand by her man.

Why she'd agreed to do the programme was clear enough - as a PR exercise for her campaign to highlight what she sees as the injustice of his trial and sentence.

Perhaps she simply feels obliged to honour the wedding vows she made. Richer, poorer, sickness, health, that sort of thing. Being apart, in a perverse way, may keep them together. For a time he lived in London, she lived in Cambridge and they only met at public events. A bit like their current situation with Jeffrey allowed home from prison for the odd weekend visit.

His series of affairs, including one lasting eight years, were not reason enough for his wife to kick him out. She says that, for some, infidelity is not an over-riding killer of a relationship, while admitting it's "unhelpful" when your partner's unfaithfulness is shared with people through publicity. Besides, she adds, life is "about an awful lot more than sex".

As for her husband's economy with the truth, she maintains that "he doesn't lie more than the average person".

Perhaps her sister, Janet Brealey, came closest to solving the enigma that is ice maiden Mary by suggesting that originally Jeffrey offered "a completely different window on life" for the intelligent but not streetwise Mary. A case of opposites attracting.

Despite the traumas that her husband has inflicted on their life, she remains cool, calm and collected - and, in the famous word of the judge, fragrant. She rejects being cold, prefering to call it British reserve. There was even a hint that she's flirtatious in an old-fashioned coquettish way.

What did emerge was her love for cats. At Oxford, she was pictured in a paper with a cute kitten (and yes, someone did make a joke about Mary's pussy). At home today, she was shown stroking a cat and with a feline rubbing against her legs.

Whether she tickles Jeffrey under his chin, I don't know. We do know what he thinks of her. As he's not allowed to be interviewed, the programme-makers asked him to write down his thoughts on his wife. Mary, he stated, was best summed up by a Sinatra lyric - I simply adore her.