Jasper Pye a refined civil servant is sent to the rural Suffolk/Norfolk counties border to close the Office of Output Statistics which has outlived its usefulness. Instead he becomes seduced by the small idyllic world he finds there, making his task rather more difficult than he had imagined. He soon finds himself becoming entangled with the local aristocrat's three beautiful daughters.
Jasper Pye is a polite, honest civil servant who lives with his mother. One night when he hears his girlfriend Deirdre describe him as 'a bore' at a party, he decides he needs an urgent, radical change in his life. The following morning he heads into the ministry, determined to resign his job and move to Paris to become a painter. Instead he is dissuaded by his superior, who instead wants him to go to Arcady Hall in Suffolk where the Office of Output Statistics, a small government department has been working since 1940 when it was commandeered during the Battle of Britain and overlooked for closure for a number of years, despite its apparent lack of usefulness.
Initially reluctant to take the assignment the diffident Jasper is persuaded by his boss. He is told that his remit is essentially to close the place down, though he has an entirely "free hand" in the matter. Jasper prepares to leave for the small village of Arcady where Arcady Hall is located. Symbolically he recovers his umbrella which he had shoved into a flowerbed in St James' Park when planning to abandon the civil service, thinking to himself. "Well, it was a rather good umbrella, and it might rain"
He catches a train to Arcady, but finds that the branch line that runs there from the neighbouring town had closed four years before. He instead has to walk into the village. He arrives to find Arcady Hall a magnificent sight but seemingly far too large for the small department of three employees who work there. He quickly finds himself the talk of the town, as the 'man from the ministry' who cuts quite a dash. In particular he strikes up a relationship with each of Lord Flamborough's daughters. Chloe, the eldest, trapped in an unhappy marriage with her drunken, wayward husband Lionel Virley, her first cousin and heir to the estate. Belinda the flirtatious and uninhibited middle daughter and the wildly gothic romantic youngest, Matilda.
When he goes to meet the eccentric Lord Flamborough who, having lost both legs in a train accident whilst working as a driver during the 1926 General Strike, now lives on a steam train on a nearby private railway - the defunct branch line of the title. He appears content to have ceded the day-to-day running of the Hall to Professor Pollux, and having a passion for Trad Jazz (whilst being an erratic drummer at best) seems more interested in the fact that Jasper can allegedly dance the Charleston than remarking on any entanglements Pye may have with his daughters. Like everyone else in the village, he seems to take to Jasper, helping to persuade him to stay for the fete that Bank Holiday Monday, being held in aid of "fallen women". He is to be the judge of a competition of ladies' ankles. He has again disposed of his umbrella after being told he is very sexy apart from it.
He soon finds that the department's two senior employees spend most of their time running the Hall and its history, the village and the local cricket team. Anything in fact, other than the jobs they are supposed to be doing. Jasper finds it very difficult to find out any information about the work of the department, due to a combination of their evasive responses and his own extracurricular activities, which draw him away from his task.
On one of the rare moments when he actually manages to have a discussion on the department's function, the third employee, Miss Mounsey, breaks down and admits to him that she has been making up the statistics for a number of years, worrying this may have affected government policy. Jasper reassures her that "nobody has ever taken the least bit of notice in the work of your department" much to her relief.
Jasper has become a regular fixture in the life of the village, despite having only been there for a few days. He undertakes a number of adventures such as painting a portrait of Belinda (her torso, naked), finding himself locked in the Hall dungeon/wine cellar with Lionel Virley, where they get completely inebriated, only to turn up late to the Arcady vs Flaxfield cricket match, where, while still drunk, score the winning runs, and actually rescue the game. He climbs the ivy on the ruined castle wall to join Matilda at the top, only to get stuck up there, He also became an overnight expert on gardening, a hero in the village (because of the cricket match), and is seen as the village Casanova. He skinny dips and romps naked around an island in the middle of a lake, with Belinda (the second daughter), joins a party on Lord Flamborough's train, and all the while he faces the difficult decision of whether to close the obviously redundant department despite the rural idyll it seems to support. Eventually he announces that the department is to close, a decision which does not go down well with Lord Flamborough or the villagers, although they apparently bear Jasper no ill will because of it, realising he is "just doing his job". The fete proceeds as planned, including a traction engine rally, the ankle-judging competition (won by Miss Mounsey) and a demonstration of the Charleston by Jasper.
Miss Tidy, a lady who shared the railway carriage with Jasper on his way up to Arcady, and a former paramour of Lord Flamborough, announces that she has in fact been there acting on behalf of the National Trust who want to preserve the house for the nation, meaning that life can go on as it was before in Arcady. It is interesting to note that in the original novel Arcady Hall was destined to become a Nuclear Research Establishment.
Eventually, as Belinda and Matilda, the two unmarried daughters of Lord Flamborough, appear to have become bored with Jasper (just like Deirdre was), he meanwhile has come to realise that the woman he is most taken with is the shy spinster Miss Mounsey, the secretary for the department, who very obviously likes him, and admits 'I don't find you a bore, far from it'. When it starts to rain, he embraces his true persona by retrieving the umbrella from the flowerbed. The story ends with Jasper and Miss Mounsey embracing on the platform at Arcady station.
Much of the outdoor scenes were filmed at Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk. Some internal scenes were filmed at Chawton House in Hampshire, while the railway scenes were filmed on the North Norfolk Railway, in particular using Weybourne station as a substitute for the fictional Arcady station.
Each episode is named after a 1920s song, from the Charleston era beloved by Lord Flanborough - "Yes Sir, That's My Baby", "I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight", "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby" and "Ain't She Sweet".
Love on a Branch Line was released on Region One DVD in 2002 and on Region Two in 2006. These are distributed by Acorn Media UK.