The book has no explicit dedication, but begins with a quotation from the Youth Hostels Association Handbook:
"They will make wonderful discoveries in their own country and, once they have tasted the pleasures of this vagabondage, they will return to it again and again."The review in The Times of 2 August 1934 picked this up when it said "What counts for most in the story, as it did for Mr Finchley, is his mounting pleasure in vagabondage and the English scene."
Mr. Edgar Finchley, unmarried solicitor's clerk aged 45, is told to take a holiday for the first time in his life. He books a hotel in Margate but, before he sets off, is asked to keep an eye on a luxury car. He gets into it, goes to sleep on the back seat, and wakes up to find it has been stolen and is being chased by the police. The thief, Wally Beck, outruns the police and holds Mr. Finchley overnight in a house, from which the next day he is released by Beck's girlfriend, Jane Myers. This is the first of about twenty unrelated encounters which take Mr Finchley gradually westward through Bristol, Blagdon Lake, Glastonbury, Taunton, Exeter and Dartmoor to Land's End, Plymouth and back, via a smuggling yacht, to London.
Towards the end of the novel he runs into a client of the solicitor's office, Mrs Crantell, who is on holiday in Cornwall, and she flirts with him. She recurs in the two other Mr Finchley books, Mr Finchley goes to Paris, and Mr Finchley takes the road, and by the third they are married.
This was Canning's first published novel. Hodder and Stoughton paid an advance of £50, on the strength of which Canning gave up his clerical job and started writing full time. The first edition of 7,700 which cost 7/6 appeared in July 1934 and sold out within a month, and there were three reprints in the first year. Reynal and Hitchcock brought out an American edition in 1935 under the title Mr Finchley's Holiday. There was a cheap edition at 4/- in 1936. Altogether there were 12 hardback reprints by 1942, a paperback edition in that year which was mostly destroyed by a bomb falling on the publishers' warehouse, and after the war several new paperback editions. Canning said he had earned £30,000 from the book, but it is not clear if he is including any post-war editions in this calculation. In any case it was a large sum of money for the time and justified his leaving his job.
A new edition has just been released in 2009 using the print-on-demand service Lulu.com. There has also been a new large-print edition intended mainly for libraries published by Magna Print in 2010.
It was broadcast as a serial on BBC radio Woman's Hour, read by Dennis McCarthy, in twelve daily episodes beginning 19 September, 1960.
According to Jean Tearle, Canning's sister, the character of Mr Finchley is partly based on Canning's father, who was an energetic walker and a fund of stories about encounters with gypsies and tramps. An early notebook has survived which shows that Canning originally called his character "Mr. Pitcheley" and that the key incident triggering the book was the encounter with the escaped lunatic on Dartmoor in Chapter 21, which may have related to something his father told him. The book and the character may also owe something to John Buchan's Dickson McCunn, a middle-aged man in a boring job trying to capture a romantic thread (see Buchan's Huntingtower, Castle Gay, and The House of the Four Winds). Canning admitted to being influenced by J.B.Priestley's The Good Companions and another possible influence is H.G.Wells's The History of Mr Polly. There is also a debt to Dickens's The Pickwick papers which established the genre.