With Lord Emsworth depressed and various broken relationships to fix, Uncle Fred once again makes his way to Blandings Castle to spread sweetness and light. The Earl of Ickenham, better known as Uncle Fred, must once again come to Blandings Castle to sort out the tangle of broken hearts and pig theft.
There is much to trouble Lord Emsworth at his home of Blandings Castle; old adversary the Duke of Dunstable has arrived for a visit, his twelve year old grandson George is in residence, the Church Lads' Brigade are camped out by his lake, and he dislikes his new secretary, Lavender Briggs. To make matters worse he has to go to the opening of Parliament. Even a visit to the sty of his prized fat pig, the Empress of Blandings, and her keeper George Cyril Wellbeloved, cannot cheer up Lord Emsworth .
Lady Constance is looking after Myra Schoonmaker as a favour to her millionaire father James, and this involves her keeping Myra away from unsuitable men like penniless curate Bill Bailey. She has invited Dunstable's nephew, Archie Gilpin to Blandings, as a much more suitable suitor. But when Myra learns that Lady Constance is going to Shrewsbury to get her hair done, she calls Bill to say she is coming to London so they can quickly get married.
Acting as witness to the marriage will be Pongo Twistleton, who is currently enduring a visit from his Uncle Fred, who turns out to know Myra and invites himself along. But Myra does not show up at the registry office, leaving Bill worried, he knows that the handsome Archie is on his way to Blandings and that Archie's girl, Millicent Rigby, has recently broken their engagement. Uncle Fred of course has the solution. Bumping into Lord Emsworth and hearing of the peer's woes he suggests that he come to Blandings to offer moral support, and will bring his assistant, Cuthbert Meriwether who will of course be Bill. At Blandings it transpires that Bill and Myra had been as different registry offices and all is well.
The boys of the Church Lads' Brigade play a trick on Lord Emsworth, getting him to swim out into the lake to rescue what turns out to be a floating log. When young George tells Dunstable of this, Dunstable is confirmed in his old belief that Emsworth is insane. He believes this is due to Lord Emsworth's pig fixation and decides to steal the Empress and sell her to his friend Lord Tilbury for $2000. He enlists Lavender Briggs to help at a fee of $500 and she in turn enlists Wellbeloved for $50. She also tries to blackmail Bill into helping as she has recognised him as an imposter.
Acting without consulting Uncle Fred, Bill confesses his predicament to Lord Emsworth who fires Wellbeloved and will fire Lavender Briggs as soon as he can find her. Unfortunately he also tells Lady Constance who "Cuthbert Meriwether" really is.
On the advice of Uncle Fred, Lord Emsworth revenges himself on the Lads' Brigade by cutting the tent ropes by night, unaware that he is photographed doing so by George. George tells Dunstable, who uses it to blackmail Lord Emsworth into giving him the Empress.
Confronted by Lady Constance about Bill, Uncle Fred tells her it was Beach, the Blandings butler, who cut the ropes and that Bill has the pictures. So Constance cannot throw Bill out or she might lose the excellent Beach. Lady Constance writes to Myra's father asking him to come to Blandings.
Having slipped Beach a fiver as an apology, Uncle Fred bumps into Myra who has split up with Bill! She thinks that his telling Lord Emsworth the truth indicates he does not care about her. Uncle Fred puts her straight but now learns that Archie proposed to Myra and she said yes, and cannot ditch the wealthy Archie as her father would ship her back to America.
Now he has dirt on Lord Emsworth, Dunstable tries to cut Lavender Briggs out of the pig theft, approaching Lord Tilbury immediately and upping his price to $3000. Tilbury refuses. The conversation is overheard by Lavender (who still does not know she is to be fired) who tells Tilbury she will steal the pig, he gives her a cheque for $500. Uncle Fred tells Lavender she has been fired and advises her to cash Tilbury's cheque before he learns she no longer has access to the Empress.
Uncle Fred now learns that Archie is engaged to Millicent as well as Myra, but cannot ditch Myra or he will be unable to borrow $1000 from Dunstable which he needs to buy into his cousin Ricky's onion soup stand.
James Schoonmaker arrives and is met by his old friend Uncle Fred. Schoonmaker confides that he is in love with Lady Constance but is too shy to tell her.
Uncle Fred makes Dunstable think that Schoonmaker is now broke and that unless he wants Archie marrying into poverty he'll have to buy Myra off with $1000. Uncle Fred tells Myra to give the money to Archie then go up to London with Bill and get married.
Schoonmaker proposes to Lady Constance and she accepts but he is distressed to hear that his daughter had eloped with a curate rather than Archie. But Uncle Fred points out that her marrying Archie would leave Schoonmaker related to Dunstable, and Schoonmaker agrees that would not be good. Dunstable himself meanwhile is forced to leave in shame as the truth about his plans to steal the Empress comes out. With Dunstable gone and his sister leaving with her new fiancée, Lord Emsworth's world has seldom been brighter.
Service With a Smile is the 8th Blandings story, the 2nd to feature Uncle Fred, and the 4th Uncle Fred story! Such is the interweaving world of Wodehouse characters. This one is a marked improvement on Uncle Fred in the Springtime which feels a little forced and it's a shame that Wodehouse would never write about uncle Fred again.
Best part of story, including ending:
I love Wodehouse's fantasy world of British aristocracy and their romantic entanglements and this is one of the best plotted.
Best scene in story:
Duke of Dunstable realising that James Schoonmaker is still rich and he has paid off the man's daughter for nothing is great beacuse you get to see a nasty character get his comeuppance.
Opinion about the main character:
Uncle Fred can seem like a pale imitation of Galahad Threepwood, who serves a similar function in other Blandings books, but in this one he really comes into his own; brazen, charming and endlessly well-intentioned.