The time is the late 1930s, and our story begins with a giddy throng of young Mayfair swells journeying by motorcar from London to Hampshire. As they ride they anticipate the delights of A Weekend at Hareford, especially because of the expected appearance of the long-lost heir to the Earldom of Hareford. No one at Hareford Hall, however, is more anxious to meet him than Lady Jaqueline Carstone who, though engaged to the simpering Gerald Bolingbroke, makes no secret of her desire to snare the Earl for herself (Thinking of No-One But Me).
At a conference of the Hareford clan, family solicitor Herbert Parchester relates the unfortunate tale of the 13th Earl who had secretly wed, and soon parted from, a woman beneath his station. With both of them now deceased, the title and the estate pass on to the Earl's son whom Parchester has located and who is waiting outside. The only hitch: the heir must be deemed a fit and proper person by the two executors of the will, Maria, Duchess of Dene, and Sir John Tremayne. The young man is summoned and he turns out to be Bill Snibson, a pugnacious Cockney ne'er-do-well from Lambeth, complete with bobbing brown bowler, loud checkered suit and flaming red scarf. ("Where do you live?" Lady Jaquie asks him. "I live in a distant village called London." "What part?" "All of me.") This, however, does not faze the determined Duchess who, much to the consternation of Sir John and the others, is certain that she can make Bill into a proper gentleman. But there is another hitch: Bill has brought along his girlfriend, Sally Smith, also from Lambeth. This is too much, even for the Duchess.
With Bill off to fetch Sally, the Hareford relatives listen to Parchester's bouncy advice to "Bring your troubles more and more to The Family Solicitor," then follow him as he skips merrily about the room. After they have adjourned to the library, Sally enters with Bill. Dazzled by her surroundings, she feels out of place, but Bill quickly reassures her "Nobody is going to part Me and My Girl." That of course, is a song cue, and the twosome join in singing the lilting little number, followed by a snappy buck-and-wing which ends with the pair tapping on top of a long table.
Nothing daunted, the Duchess presses on with her plans for Bill as she gives him lessons in how to speak and behave at a party she is planning in his honor. Sally, of course, will not be invited. At the Hareford Arms pub, Sir John tries to persuade the unhappy girl that both she and Bill should go back to Lambeth, but he is deeply moved when Sally reveals how strongly she feels in the plaintive Once You Lose Your Heart.
Just before the formal party is to be held on the terrace of Hareford Hall, the Duchess, Sir John, Lady Jaquie, Gerald and others await Bill's arrival. Bill enters in formal attire, regally waving his hand, putting on exaggerated airs, and speaking with a clipped Oxonian accent as he meets the guests. (Dowager to Bill: "Do you know my daughter, May?" Bill to dowager: "No, but thanks for the tip.") Suddenly Sally shows up in an outrageous busker outfit and introduces her Lambeth mates to the startled toffs. She announces that she is going back where she belongs and Bill agrees to go too, saying, "We can't walk the Mayfair way any more than they can walk the Lambeth Way." Then, blimey, if he doesn't lead both Cockneys and swells in The Lambeth Walk - strutting, prancing, kicking, cocking their thumbs and shouting "Oi!" in the proper manner - and soon they are all spilling out beyond the stage and up and down the theatre's aisles. By the time the scene is over, even the Duchess has had a go at it.
In the Hareford garden the following afternoon, Lady Jaquie, Gerald, and other pleasure-seekers are playing croquet as they sing and dance the jolly hip-hip-hip-hooray number, The Sun Has Got His Hat On. Reason enough, indeed, why everyone is wearing a hat. Despite their previously expressed intention to leave, Bill and Sally have remained at Hareford. Sir John, who is now firmly on their side, wants them to marry, and Sally responds with a chipper bit of philosophy, Take It on the Chin ("Cultivate a little grin and smile").
Because he must soon make his maiden speech in the House of Lords, Bill, in coronet and "vermin"-collared scarlet cape, is in the library rehearsing. Sally tells him to marry someone with good blood ("What are you, anemic?"), and, alone just before leaving for London, she reprises Once You Lose Your Heart. (following Love Makes the World Go Round).
Back in Lambeth, Sally receives a telegram from Bill advising that he is chucking everything to be with her. She also receives a visit from Sir John offering his help at beating the Duchess at her own game. How can Sally do it? Simply by staying at the home of a speech professor he knows who lives on Wimpole Street. Sally leaves before Bill appears - in white tie and tails - to explain to a policeman that he is Leaning on a Lamppost not because he is loitering but because he's hoping that "a certain little lady comes by." Sure enough, Sally does come by but it's only in Bill's imagination as he envisions the two of them gliding and twirling through the misty street.
Hareford Hall is once again the scene of another spiffy party. Now despairing of Bill because he does nothing but moan about his Lambeth love, the Duchess finally comes to realize how much Sally means to him. In her new mellow mood, she accepts Sir John's offer of marriage, and even Gerald gets Lady Jaquie to accept his offer. Bill enters in his Lambeth duds, informs one and all that he's finally decided to go home, and runs upstairs to pack. To everyone's amazement, Sally arrives elegantly attired in tiara and white shimmering gown and speaking the King's English. (Sir John's reaction: "I think she's got it!") After Bill comes downstairs, Sally hides her face with her fan as she speaks to him. Once she reveals her identity, Bill can only blurt out - more in relief than in anger - "Where the bleedin' 'ell 'ave you been?" (Finale).
- Stanley Green