Sex, violence, bankruptcy, drink, relatives, terrorism -- you'd think you were watching a congressional report on the evening news. But it's the British Parliament, described as a Victorian school for boys, that is under the spotlights in "First Among Equals." The nine-part Granada Television series premieres at 9 tonight in a two-hour episode on WETA.

The mini-series and the book on which it's based prove that neither politicians nor authors learn from either fiction or fact.

In "First Among Equals" a member of Parliament, eventually a leading candidate for prime minister, has an affair with a prostitute. She, of course, blackmails him. Another MP and PM candidate invests in a fraudulent company and almost loses his place in Parliament, as well as his money.

Jeffrey Archer, author of "First Among Equals," left Parliament in 1974 because of investment fraud charges. He quit his post in 1986 as Conservative Party deputy chairman -- while this mini-series was playing in Britain -- after a news story said he paid off a prostitute.

After the first scandal, Archer paid his debts and made some $5 million with six bestselling novels and a book of short stories. The television version of his "Kane and Abel" was shown on CBS in 1985.

The "First Among Equals" mini- series is based on the British version of Archer's novel. (The American version is simplified, which says something about English and American publishers and readers.) The adaptation by Derek Marlow, at least the first two hours, is full of good one-liners:

"Be cautious of anyone in the House {of Commons} who opens the door for you before you've touched the handle."

"Every politician's wife is a frustrated politician," says one MP to his wife.

"No, a frustrated wife," the wife retorts.

"If I back the man who becomes leader of the party I'm in a strong position. But if I back the wrong man, prime ministers don't forgive very easily. Rather like jilted lovers."

"First Among Equals" covers 30 years in the lives of four men, from the day they enter Parliament to the day one moves into 10 Downing St.:

Andrew Fraser (played by David Robb), a Labor Party member though the son of a Scottish Conservative; Raymond Gould (Tom Wilkinson), the son of a Leeds butcher, also a Laborite; Simon Kerslake (James Faulkner), a writer and a Tory; Charles Seymour (Jeremy Child), a Conservative, the younger of twins, whose homosexual brother stands to inherit the family title and estates.

The series was filmed with two endings. WETA will show the last episode Aug. 24 during its money-raising campaign week and allow viewers to vote for the candidate they think will become prime minister, but the station hasn't decided yet how to set up the balloting.

The wives, mistresses, fiance'es, camp followers and, of all things, colleagues of these would-be Atlases, like real-life political bedfellows, have smaller roles in the drama. However, judging by the first two hours, their faces may be the ones you'll remember. They are: Fraser's discarded fiance'e, Alison McKenzie (Judi Maynard); his wife, Louise Fraser (Diana Hardcastle); Elizabeth Kerslake (Joanna David); Joyce Gould (Anita Carey); and Fiona Seymour (Jane Booker). And they prove that British actresses have more talent for looking miserable than any other nation's.

As always in British television, the most handsome faces are the architectural ones; in this case Westminster Palace and the Houses of Parliament are the most decorative part of the program. Furthermore, this series (produced by Mervyn Watson, directed by John Gorrie, Brian Mills and Sarah Harding) shows again that the British certainly are first among ensemble players and, therefore, among TV series.

Still, Archer is not the equal of Anthony Trollope, nor is this TV series equal to "The Pallisers" (which ends its 22-part current rerun at midnight tomorrow).

Though the House of Commons may not have improved in the century between the writers, the temptations remain the same: power, love and money -- in Britain, the United States and the world.