Alec Smart, who is engaged teaching in a prison, applies for the job of headmaster at a nearby public school to replace the previous headmaster who has been convicted of writing forged cheques and has just been sent to prison. Smart appeals to the Governor to write him a good reference which he pretends to. Afterwards he writes his real recommendation which is very negative about Smart's talents. The trustee who works as the Governor's secretary, Faker Brown, "accidentally" gets the two letters mixed up and delivers the one praising Smart. On the basis of the letter, Lady Dorking, the who runs the Board of Governors appoints Smart to the job. This angers her deputy, Colonel Crableigh, who had favoured promoting his nephew, the Deputy head.