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)


Posted by writer Charles McCain, author of the World War Two naval epic: An Honorable German 


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