In the Royal Navy he rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander. After his retirement he became a commentator for BBC Radio. He was one of its main commentators during the 1930s, covering amongst many other events the opening ceremony of the 1936 Summer Olympics and Neville Chamberlain's return from Munich in 1938. He is best remembered though for two gaffes.
In 1937 he was to describe the Spithead Review from his old ship the battleship HMS Nelson. Apparently he met some of his former colleagues before the broadcast and drank 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 a few minutes and suspended for a week by BBC Director-General John Reith. Woodroofe's comically rambling commentary has regularly been rebroadcast. The phrase "lit up" can also be a euphemism for drunkenness, which may explain Woodrooffe's comment, "At the present moment, the whole fleet is lit up. When I say 'lit up', I mean lit up by fairy lamps.". Parts of Woodrooffe's commentary were used by the British rock band Public Service Broadcasting in their track Lit Up.
Woodrooffe continued to work for the BBC though and in 1938 he was the main commentator at the FA Cup Final between Preston North End and Huddersfield Town, the first to be televised. After 29 minutes of extra time it was still 0-0 and Woodrooffe declared: "If there's a goal scored now, I'll eat my hat." Seconds later Preston was awarded a penalty from which George Mutch scored. Woodrooffe kept his promise, though Time stated that the "hat" he ate was made of sugar-coated cake.
Thomas Woodrooffe also wrote a number of books on naval history, including River of Golden Sand (1936), Best Stories of the Navy (1941) and Vantage at Sea: England's Emergence as An Oceanic Power (1958).
- The Synonym Finder, J. I. Rodale, Laurence Urdang, Nancy LaRoche, Urdang, Published 1978, p565.
- Recording and Transcription(1), Transcription(2)
- ITV Sport
- Time Magazine, 23 May 1938