Absolutely Hilarious Broadcast from the BBC in 1938 Known as “the Fleet’s Lit Up”



graf spee spihead fleet re view 1937

The German heavy cruiser ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE anchored off Spithead for the 1937 Fleet Review. In the background are the battleship HMS RESOLUTION and the battlecruiser HMS HOOD. 

photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

“At the present moment, the whole fleet is lit up. When I say ‘lit up’, I mean lit up by fairy lamps.”


Certainly the commentator was. This still infamous BBC broadcast is known as “the Fleet’s Lit Up.” Seems that naval commentator Thomas Woodrooffe, a Lt. Commander retired from the Royal Navy, went aboard HMS Nelson on the May 20th, 1937.

Once darkness fell, his task was to describe the illumination of the several hundred warships assembled for the Coronation Fleet Review for BBC listeners. (The original broadcast does not include the music that the Youtube video plays in the background.)

This traditional event was held in this case to celebrate the coronation of George VI.  Woodrooffe’s reference to the “New York” is to the battleship USS New York, sent to represent the United States. Ironically, the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee represented Nazi Germany.

Woodrooffe, who had once served about the RN battleship HMS Nelson, made the mistake of going aboard the ship in the afternoon and spending three or four hours with his former shipmates in the wardroom having drinks, presumably gin. Lots of gin. By the time Woodrooffe went on the air he was completely “lit up”, smashed, knee-walking drunk.

He was broadcasting live and after just a few minutes the BBC pulled the plug.

If the audio file in the beginning of the post doesn’t play you you can listen to the broadcast here: 



War ships at Spithead Fleet Review 1937

The British battleship HMS RODNEY off Spithead for the 1937 Fleet Review. Anchored in the background are two Queen Elizabeth Class battleships and two cruisers of the London Class. (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)


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You Can’t Make It Up – The King and Queen of England Hide from General Eisenhower

In mid 1944, Queen Elizabeth and King George VI entertained Dwight Eisenhower, by then Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Forces, to a private buffet lunch. The Queen told Eisenhower that two years ago when Colonel Sterling, one of the Royal Equerries, was showing the gardens of Buckingham Palace to the newly arrived General Eisenhower, the Colonel had not realized that the King and Queen were on the grounds. Not wishing to disturb the General Eisenhower’s tour and not yet having received him formally, this presented a quandary. So the King and Queen got up, slipped behind a hedge, and got on their hands and knees so Eisenhower would not see them as he walked past.

– As cited in Eisenhower at War 1943-45 by David Eisenhower

George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, played an important role in maintaining British moral during World War Two, particularly during the ‘Blitz’, when German aircraft flying only at night, bombed British cities with London the most common target which at one point was hit 57 nights in a row. The Blitz went on intermittently from late September of 1940 until mid-May of 1941 when Luftwaffe units in France began to be withdrawn and redeployed in the East for the invasion of the Soviet Union. Over 43,000 British civilians were killed during the Blitz, half of them Londoners.

Early in the Blitz, Buckingham Palace was bombed by the Germans and the King and Queen were almost killed. Londoners took courage when they passed by Buckingham Palace and saw the Royal Standard flying which indicated the King and Queen were in residence. They stayed in London throughout the Blitz, sharing the fate of their subjects. George VI was physically weak and never expected to be King. He stuttered terribly. He was living a very quiet life when Edward VIII abdicated in one of the more bizarre romance stories ever. London street urchins ran around singing:

“Hark the herald,
Angels sing
Mrs. Simpson’s
pinched our king.”