The Fleet’s Lit Up: Live BBC Broadcast Goes Wrong
ON 20 May 1937, the BBC carried a live commentary on the illumination of the naval fleet, with insight provided retired Naval officer Lieutenant-Command Thomas Woodrooffe.
We went live to the action:
This is the Regional Programme. 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 (indistinct, but that’s my best guess). At the present moment, the New York, obviously, is lit out … 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, y’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 (indistinct). 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 … erm … 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, eh, 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, (indistinct) 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.
Transcript by Uffish