Ben Archer (Mick Ford) is the deuteragonist in Scum and the fish out of water antihero. He is inmate number 4721.

Not only is he far more intelligent than the rest of the inmates, he is also vastly more intelligent than any of the warders. Unusually, he is from a middle-class stable, unlike the other prisoners. The Governor appreciates this, and therefore often asks Archer about books he may have read during otherwise functional summonses to his office. Incarcerated for stealing money from his employer, Archer has no intention of being a good boy and playing the system. He does not care about getting time off for good behaviour and he tells the newly-arrived Carlin that he wants to serve his time "in my own little way". This way means "causing as much trouble for the screws as possible". For this, he immediately gains Carlin's respect.

Archer is not insolent or violent, just awkward and articulate, and therefore the screws - who are used to applying punishments through violence - have no idea how to deal with him. The dominant inmates, including Banks and his honchos, just assume he is a "weirdo" and leave him alone, although Richards threatens Archer briefly (although Archer maintains eye contact with Richards throughout) when he tries to stop him victimising the vulnerable youngster Woods. Carlin's arrival with a sock of snooker balls puts a stop to that.

To create stirs and inconvenience, Archer becomes a vegetarian and is put on a special diet ("I get extra potatoes as a substitute for meat and I am allowed fish when on the menu") and refuses to wear leather boots. This means he walks barefoot at all times, including on outdoor exercise marches, until the governor (who, as a religious man, has a policy of respecting individual beliefs) gets some plastic boots for him. Archer's beliefs are entirely self-sacrificial, borne entirely out of creating work for the screws; he has read the rule book and knows that the system has to comply with what he does.

In the borstal system, a Church of England service on a Sunday morning to further the inmates' rehabilitation was part of the regime and attendance was compulsory unless the inmate had a valid reason for excusing himself. Archer refuses to attend and registers himself as an atheist and later a Muslim to exploit this loophole, so prison officer Duke has to be assigned to watch him on his own. Archer manages to wind up this prison officer as he talks about the "daily humiliation" that the system imposes on both the boys and the men who lock them up. His argument goes completely over the screw's head who sees it as simply an insult ("I give you my f***ing coffee and you take the piss out of me!")

Archer and Carlin are not remotely alike except in a desire to survive and stay strong, and the two become kindred spirits from the first day of Carlin's stay. Assigned to work together in the laundry, they learn more about each other and become solid friends, despite their obvious different outlooks on the system. Archer's relationship with Carlin doesn't change after Carlin's self-elevation to the status of 'Daddy', and their camaraderie is summed up when Carlin generously gives him one of his sausages ("Get it down ya, sharpish!") at dinner time while the screws aren't looking. Archer devours it.

Archer is unafraid to protest about the treatment he or others receive; during the cocoa round before lights out, he requests to see the Governor when exercise was cancelled because "it looked like rain" - it ultimately didn't rain, which was the crux of Archer's protest (again a tool to cause needless strife for the warders), and was pushed strongly back into his cell by warden Taylor as a consequence of this remark, hot cocoa spilling all over his clothes and bed. During a group meeting with the Matron (the borstal's only female presence), Archer protests about the perpetually petrified Formby's presence at the borstal as he was just 14 years old, and then asks to have a discussion based on the nature of trust, as the inmates were constantly being told to take the trust of the warders and the system on rehabilitating them, while yet being "told at the same time we are totally untrustworthy". Nobody had anything to say.

After the rape and suicide of Davis, the normally peaceable Archer sits next to Carlin as Mr Sands tries to force the inmates to eat their dinner. Archer joins in the riot after Carlin stands up with his tray and begins it. Afterwards, Archer is seen being dragged, bruised and bleeding, into a cell. This is the only time he gets beaten up - crucially not ever by one of the other inmates.


"Carlin, I just wanna get through my time in my own little way, causing as much f***ing trouble to the screws as my own little way...ok?"

1977 VersionEdit

In the original BBC screenplay, Archer is portrayed by David Threlfall.
Threlfall plays Archer more mild and coolly thoughtful, while Ford gives the character a sly, cheeky edge.


David Threlfall as Archer

See AlsoEdit