"Lord X was an old buffer."
This is an ambiguous statement.
The author clearly means Lord X was a clownish or mocked old man.
The author clearly means Lord X was an old petty officer.
Other, to be explained in a comment.
Also on the subject of language recently: C wasn't familiar with the phrase "to phone in a performance". major_clanger assures me it's an Americanism.
I'd never encountered "the subject in hand" before, only "the subject at hand"; yet, from online discussions, the former is apparently much more widespread and more multinational than the latter.