First Among Equals is a 1984 novel by British author Jeffrey Archer, that follows the careers and personal lives of four British politicians (Simon Kerslake, Charles Hampton, Raymond Gould and Andrew Fraser) from 1964 to 1991, each vying to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Several situations in the novel are drawn from the author's own early political career in the British House of Commons, and the fictional characters interact with actual British politicians of the day, including Winston Churchill, Alec Douglas-Home, Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher, and others, including Douglas Hurd, Colonel Gadaffi, Gary Hart and Queen Elizabeth II.
The Title is a literal translation of the Latin term Primus inter pares, a term used to refer to either the most senior member of a group of equals (peers) or to refer to someone who claims to be just one member of a group of equals when in reality he or she completely dominates said group.
Different characters become Prime Minister in the British and American editions of the book; Archer explained that this was because he found that readers in the two countries were not cheering for the same character to win. The British version also includes a Scottish Member of Parliament
that the American version omits, perhaps due to the lack of knowledge that this audience has of more than two (Conservative and Labour) British political parties.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
A ten-part miniseries
, produced by Granada Television
, aired on ITV
in 1986. Granada constructed a full-scale replica set of the House of Commons chamber for the production, which for many years formed a central part of their Granada Studios Tour
attraction, where visitors could see mock debates being performed on the set by actors. The set was also often used by other television productions wanting to set scenes in the Commons chamber, and in 2002 was purchased by the scriptwriter Paul Abbott
so that it could be used in his BBC
drama serial State of Play
. Abbott, himself a former Granada Television staff writer, bought it personally as the set would otherwise have been destroyed and he feared it would take too long to get the necessary money from the BBC. He currently keeps it in storage in Oxford
Sequences set in the fictional Northumbrian constituency of Redfern were actually filmed, much closer to Granada studios, in Lancashire at Entwistle railway station and at the Barlow Institute, Edgworth.
The miniseries also used different names for real life politicians.
US and UK Plot Differences
The initial US version differed from the UK release with the drop of the major character of Andrew Fraser. As a result, several plot elements revolving around him were put onto other characters, notably Simon Kerslake, who suffered through a change of heart in marriage and the loss of a child in the US edition, while they were suffered by Andrew Frasier in the UK edition. Also notable is the character who influences the final Prime Minister decision. The UK edition is probably more true to form in terms of Andrew playing kingmaker, though Archer copped out in that edition by failing to acknowledge the price Andrew would have extracted for a coalition government. In addition, the US books goes into more detail regarding the UK government and how it works. It serves as a tutorial to the basics of UK parliament.
- Abbott, Paul. Audio commentary on the DVD release of State of Play. BBC Worldwide. BBCDVD 1493.