Joe Henderson, a hard-working but rather close-fisted widower, lives with his daughter, Mary, in the grimy, English mill town of Brimley. Joe's two married sisters, Alice and Jane, also reside in Brimley, as have all of their family—with the exception of three black sheep uncles who were asked to leave town some fifty years earlier. But now one of the uncles, Robert Oldfield, has written to announce his intention of coming back to Brimley to end his days and Joe, learning that the old man has amassed a fortune, decides to offer him a home. His sisters are easily hoodwinked into letting Joe take over the "family obligation," until they too find out about Uncle Robert's money—at which point the bickering begins. When the old gentleman arrives he finds that he is to be shuttled back and forth from home to home, but the mood of energetic cordiality rapidly dissipates when it is discovered that their guest is not Uncle Robert at all, but his ne'er do well brother, Emmanuel. A promise being a promise Joe takes the old man in, but begins to fume as his money, his liquor, his cigars and his wardrobe are blithely usurped by his boarder. Joe has had all about he can stand when Uncle Emmanuel obligingly falls down the steps of a pub and expires—but excitement flares up again when the real Uncle Robert arrives shortly afterwards. Again the competition for hospitality (and anticipated inheritance) begins, much to the increasing distaste of Joe's daughter, Mary, who wants only to marry her fiance, Peter (Jane's adopted son), and leave Brimley and her petty relatives forever. Mary and Peter dream of buying a farm in Cornwall, but they have no money and Peter is saddled with the running of his foster father's mill. But Uncle Robert (who is really not rich at all) saves the day by deftly swindling the necessary money from his avaricious kin, after which he dies and leaves it to the lovers. So all works out happily—marred only by the announcement that uncle number three has just arrived from Australia!
Another hilarious success by England's master of light comedy. Concerned with a group of bickering relatives in competition for an aged uncle's fortune, the play is a delightful demonstration of how greed can bring out the worst—and best—in us.