The setting is Devon in the early nineteen-fifties. The country is recovering from the aftermath of war and a new, affluent, property-owning democracy is emerging to partly replace the old aristocratic land-owning classes.
John Tucker is the only son of middle-class parents who have scrimped and saved to send him to Cambridge. He is clever and has a bright academic future ahead of him. The early death of his father forces him to reluctantly abandon his studies and find a local job to earn his living.
He also incurs the enmity of Alison Stacey, daughter of the local land-owning family who forces he and his mother to move out of his childhood home – Riversmeet.
With the secret help of his boss’s wife he begins to build his own business empire which benefits from the post-war demand for new and more luxurious housing. Meanwhile the Staceys are sinking into deep trouble arising from a combination of idleness, gambling and high living.
Ironically it is John who has to save the family he hates from disaster. His marriage to Alison (with whom he has gradually become reconciled) recovers their fortunes and enables him to buy back his old home – Riversmeet.