Obituary: The Earl of Onslow

• The Earl of Onslow, hereditary peer and farmer. Born: 28 February, 1938, in Surrey. Died: 14 May, 2011, in London, aged 73

The seventh Earl of Onslow was a colourful character who delighted in sending himself up so that he became like a character in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. But under this veneer there was a shrewd mind and a keen observer of political trends.

He was, for sure, a colourful throwback who admitted that his presence in the House of Lords was a sign of how it needed reform. But he added to debates with a sharp insight and represented the very best of hereditary legislators. In his somewhat garish clothes (Garrick Club tie or pink bowties were often in evidence) Onslow caught the eye. No more so than when he appeared on the BBC's Have I Got News For You where he was an instant hit. Onslow was a delightful and much-loved British eccentric and wonderfully erratic and unpompous.

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Michael William Coplestone Dillon Onslow was the holder not only of a subsidiary viscountcy and barony, but also a baronetcy which dated back to 1660. He attended Eton and the Sorbonne in Paris before serving with the Life Guards in Aden and Oman. He inherited the title in 1971 and became an active member of the Lords from the outset - arguing that the Rhodesian prime minister, Ian Smith, led an illegal regime. Onslow also farmed 800 acres in Surrey and created a golf course on part of the land.

But Onslow often caught the mood of the public. When a burglar broke into the Queen's bedroom and the case, to general amazement, was dismissed Onslow introduced a bill creating an offence of criminal trespass.

With typical bravado Onslow argued that it was odd that an intruder could be prosecuted for sitting on the bed of the Russian ambassador but not that of the Queen. The bill passed the Lords then ran out of time.

When Maragaret Thatcher's government promoted the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, Onslow fought the proposals with informed commitment. He struck a sternly political note when he joined the farm workers' union to condemn "rogue employers" who forced labourers out of tied cottages and promptly sold them at high prices for second homes.

Onslow faced further controversy when the Blair government set in motion its reform of the Lords: Onslow agreed change was needed but disliked the Labour Party's proposals. He had always been open to change and in 1979 had urged Thatcher to "reform the House of Lords before a Labour government did stupidly". Onslow admitted in discussing the Blair bill that he saw "the illogicality of him having any power over his fellow citizens just because his forebear got tight with the Prince Regent". His own preference was for two-thirds of the House to be elected.

Onslow remained active in the Lords until last month, when he derided the government's fixed-term parliaments bill and suggested the government had gone "completely doolally over constitutional change". Controversial to the end Onslow concluded: "In my 30 years in this House, I have regarded myself as a disloyal Conservative, and I will go on being a disloyal Conservative. If they are doing something that I believe is as fundamentally wrong as this, I will say so."

Onslow delighted in the unusual and when asked to appear on Have I Got News for You he arrived in crumpled suit and drooping bow tie: he more than held his own when other panellists sent him up. Ian Hislop rated him highly and ensured Onslow was booked for a reappearance.

In 1994 Onslow had introduced Supertunes on BBC Radio 3 on which he played a variety of music, including "rap, ambient house, acid jazz, jungle and thrash metal". With infectious enthusiasm Onslow introduced the programme: "It's time to get trippin' with me, Lord Onslow."

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There was always a knowing wink or a raffish twinkle in the Onslow mien. Even in the last few years, when suffering severely from cancer and speeding around Westminster in a wheelchair, he preserved a sense of old-world grandeur. Eccentric and curmudgeonly? For sure, but the House of Lords and Britain will be the sadder without him. Someone who can brazenly gallop down the A3 on horseback in pursuit of an escaped bullock or buy a Roman stone testicle to place under his wife's bedroom pillow must be commended for striking originality.

It was those appearances on Have I Got News For You that brought Onslow to a wider public. His unabashed political incorrectness was a joy. He gave Hislop a short and hilarious lecture on the history of his title and when asked by chairman Angus Deyton: "Presumably, you haven't heard of the Spice Girls?" Onslow snapped back: "I think they are delicious."

He married, in 1964, Robin Bullard, who survives him as do their son and two daughters. His son, Viscount Cranley succeeds to the earldom.