Andrew Crocker-Harris has been a classics teacher in a public school for eighteen years, and a heart condition is forcing him to leave and take a lower and less remunerative position in a ‘crammer’s for backward boys’. Lack of success with his pupils has blighted his youthful ambition and promise and, with his embittered wife Millie, he faces a future of poverty and disappointment.
Millie’s desire for her own particular brand of love, emotional and physical, is as great as Andrew’s desire for the fulfillment of his own platonic ideal. The tragedy is that neither can satisfy the other’s needs. Millie feels her life has been a failure and blames this squarely on her husband. She consistently undermines him and has been seeking consolation in an affair with Frank Hunter, the science master.
On the last day of term and his final day at the school, Andrew finds his past protective armour of coldness to his pupils pierced by the action of student John Taplow.
Further insults and humiliations are heaped on Andrew by the Headmaster and he also has to endure an unscheduled visit by his replacement, Peter Gilbert and Mrs Gilbert who can’t wait to inspect the flat that Andrew is shortly to vacate.