We all know what to do with a drunken sailor, but what to do with a drunken sailor turned BBC correspondent? If the example of a certain Thomas Woodrooffe is anything to go by; let them ramble across the airwaves for a while, then pull the plug!
I have just found a fabulous recording made on the night of Thursday May 20, 1937: the night of the Coronation Fleet Review of George VI. This Review was a vast gathering of 200 odd examples of naval firepower, with not only the Royal Navy’s five new carriers present, but the USS New York from across the Atlantic, Germany’s new pocket battleship Graf Spee, and the heavy cruiser Ashigara from The Empire of Japan.
During his naval career Woodrooffe had risen to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander, but after his retirement he became a commentator for BBC Radio. He was one of the most recognisable voices of the 1930s, when, let’s be honest, everyone on the radio sounded more or less the same. He covered, amongst many other events, the opening ceremony of the 1936 Summer Olympics, and Neville Chamberlain’s return from Munich in 1938.
On that misty May night Woodrooffe was to describe the Review from his old ship; the battleship HMS Nelson.
Once on board he ‘accidentally’ he met some of his former naval colleagues, and drank to the health of the newly crowned King. He might perhaps have ‘over refreshed’ himself prior to his broadcast to the extent that his broadcast, still known today by his repeated phrase “the fleet’s lit up”, was so incoherent he was taken off air after only a few minutes. When the lights all went out he famously described how the “The Fleet has gone! It’s disappeared!”
Woodrooffe was suspended for a week by the BBC’s Director-General John Reith, but was reinstated, and went on to commentate on many other famous events, including the 1938 FA Cup Final between Preston North End and Huddersfield Town, which was the first to be televised. I somehow suspect that Jeremy Clarkson might not be invited back to become a football commentator… but it could not prove any more disastrous than this gem from the archives…