Friday, May 19, 2017

May 20, 1937

80 years ago tomorrow, one of the finest moments in BBC history occurred.

Lt.-Cmdr. Thomas Woodrooffe was a retired Royal Navy office who covered the navy for BBC news. He’d previously served on the battleship HMS Nelson.

In 1937 the fleet held a large review at Spithead, which included the visiting battleship USS New York. The plan was for him to broadcast that evening from aboard HMS Nelson, when all the ships would have lights strung in their rigging.

Unfortunately, after he boarded Nelson he ran into many of his old shipmates, and they decided to have a drink... then another... then a few more... With the end result being that when Woodrooffe took the microphone that night he was completely smashed drunk.

To the horror of his bosses, his live BBC news broadcast consisted of his slurred, inebriated voice, repeatedly saying the fleet was “all lit up, like fairyland” (obviously, the fleet wasn't the only thing lit up) and rambling into the microphone. In that era the technology to cut him off and switch to something else wasn’t readily available, so he was able to go on for several minutes before they finally pulled the plug.

For those who want to listen, this is the actual recording.

If you want to read it, here's a transcript:


This is the Regional Program. The Illumination of the Fleet. Once again, we're taking you on board HMS Nelson for a description of the scene at Spithead tonight by Lieutenant-Commander Thomas Woodrooffe.


"At the present moment, the whole fleet is lit up. When I say 'lit up', I mean lit up by fairy lamps.

"We've forgotten the whole Royal Review... we've forgotten the Royal Review... the whole thing is lit up by fairy lamps. It's fantastic, it isn't the fleet at all. It's just... it's fairyland, the whole fleet is in fairyland.

"Now, if you'll follow me through... if you don't mind... the next few moments... you'll find the fleet doing odd things. At the present moment, the New York, obviously, is lit up ... and when I say the fleet is lit up ... in lamps... I mean, she's outlined. The whole ship's outlined. In little lamps.

"I'm sorry, I was telling some people to shut up talking.

"Umm... what I mean is this. The whole fleet is lit up. In fairy lamps, and... each ship is outlined.

"Now, as far as I can see is about... I suppose I can see down about five or six miles ... ships are all lit up.

"They're outlined, the whole lot. Even destroyers are outlined. In the old days, you know, destroyers used to be outlined by a little kind of pyramid of lights. And nowadays... destroyers are lit up by... they outline themselves.

"In a second or two, we're going to fire rockets, um, we're going to fire all sorts of things, and... you can't possibly see them, but you'll hear them going off, and you may hear my reaction when I see them go off. Because, uh, I'm going to try and tell you what they look like as they go off. But at the moment there's a whole huge fleet here. The thing we saw this afternoon, this colossal fleet, lit up... by lights... and the whole fleet is in fairyland! It isn't true, it isn't here!

"And as I say it ...

"It's gone! It's gone! There's no fleet! It's, uh, it's disappeared! No magician who ever could have waved his wand could have waved it with more acumen than he has now at the present moment. The fleet's gone. It's disappeared.

"I'm trying to give you, ladies and gentlemen... the fleet's gone. It's disappeared. I was talking to you... in the middle of this damn (cough), in the middle of this fleet... and what's happened is the fleet's gone, disappeared and gone. We had a hundred, two hundred warships around us a second ago, and now they've gone, at a signal by the Morse code, at a signal by the fleet flagship which I'm in now, they've gone, they've disappeared.

"There's nothing between us and heaven. There's nothing at all."


Anonymous said...

Did they ever find the fleet?

Randallw said...

A bit rambling, but not slurred. Maybe a slight bit. Anyway I'm surprised he managed to keep in RP. I would never have guessed he was drunk, just a bit flamboyant.

Officer Cynical said...

When you say “Bud”
You’ve said a lot of things nobody else can say
When you say “Bud”
You’ve gone as far as you can go to get the very best
When you say “Bud”
You’ve sent the word that means you like to do it all
When you say “Bud”
It means you want the beer that’s got a taste that’s number one
When you say “Bud”
You tell the world you know what makes it all the way
When you say “Bud”
You say you care enough to only want the King of Beers

Anonymous said...

"We are all just insignificant insects who have a brief and meaningless existence before being reclaimed for all eternity by the cosmic void. God save the King."

Anonymous said...

The Ministry of Magic- your tax pounds at work.

Kansas said...

Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind.

Jono said...

Sounds a lot like Cheeto when he's sober.

Sara L. Uckelman said...


The Scrivener said...

Did you know the fleet was lit up? With little lamps, even. Like fairyland!

Anonymous said...

oh my. Oh my oh. This is just simply hilarious. I am a voyeur here and the picture in my mind is both what the inebriated commentator is describing, and what the people listening to the broadcast are trying to imagine what the commentator is describing, and knowing something about the lightning bugs (fairy lamps?) makes me think of something painted by Maxfield Parrish with the use of odd lighting effects. Fairy lamps. All lit up. Poof.

Anonymous said...

They don't have rum anymore since Black Tot Day, but hopefully they've kept sodomy and the lash.

Ms. Donna said...

And that folks, is why the U.S. Navy is (officially) dry.

Anonymous said...

And set to music:

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