During the First World War, Alf Stokes (Paul Shane) and James Twelvetrees (Jeffrey Holland), two private soldiers, save the life of officer Teddy Meldrum (Michael Knowles). He is eternally grateful and tells them he will always be in their debt.
Nearly a decade later, James is now working as the footman in the house of wealthy businessman and widower Lord George (Donald Hewlett), Teddy's older brother, and hopes to fill the vacancy created by the recently-departed butler.
Much to his chagrin, his old mucker Alf manages to blag his way into getting the butler job, after getting the sack from the music hall he's working at and, pretty soon, he's joined at the Meldrum house by his daughter Ivy (Su Pollard) who takes the position of parlour maid.
Living a life of luxury above the stairs with the strict George Meldrum and his hopeless brother Teddy are George's senile mother-in-law, Lady Lavender (Mavis Pugh) and his two daughters, kindly Cissy (Catherine Rabett) and spoilt Poppy (Susie Brann).
Meanwhile, downstairs, Alf is constantly thinking up schemes to cheat his rich employees, which are often foiled by his own daughter dimwittedness and the interventions of his honest but pompous pal James. Working with them in the servants' quarters are also kindly cook Mrs Lipton, too-wise-for-his-own-good bootboy Henry, and put-upon charlady Mabel Wheeler.
And so the scene is set for a hilarious period romp, rich with dramatic detail, that also manages to sneak in examinations of class, sexuality and gender issues over four fabulous series.