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I wonder how many people these days know about Osbert Lancaster (see opposite page). Not Hazel Blears, I fancy. But now the Wallace Collection is about to put on an exhibition of his drawings, the first ever apparently, and I commend it to her. She might learn something. We all might.

He is not an obvious touchstone for New Labour. A Brideshead figure, he presents as a tweedy dilettante who never quite secured the permanent cosy berth in the nation's imagination occupied by his lifelong friend John Betjeman. Throughout the 1930s he produced hugely popular picture-books about architecture and interiors, introducing terms such as Stockbrokers' Tudor and Pont Street Dutch that we still use.

As a Daily Express cartoonist he pioneered the pocket cartoon in Britain - he did 10,000 in all, rattling them out each day on a piece of writing paper in 15 minutes - and in the 1950s he designed productions at Glyndebourne and Covent Garden.

The theatre work looks dated now - all mid-century pastels. The endless parade of funny aristos in the cartoons is wearing too, and many of the topical cartoons are baffling. As he himself observed: "Nothing dates so quickly as the apt comment."

But he could be acute and prescient, sometimes eerily so. In one cartoon, a child in a station points to a poster advertising the Swiss railways: "Look Mummy! Trains which work in the snow!"

But what he was most passionate - and most prescient - about was this country's built heritage. His light touch with word and pen concealed a serious purpose: the preservation of our historic buildings, the need to check the ambition of "speculative builders, borough surveyors, government departments and other notorious predators" and to staunch the spread of modern houses over the downs - "especially designed to harmonise with the beautiful landscape".

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