He was born in Adelaide, Cape Province, South Africa to George Borries Woodrooffe (1868-1923) and Elizabeth McFarlan "Bessie" Jameson (1872?-1941). He joined the Royal Navy in 1917 and served on HMS Resolution during the last year of World War I. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander and left the Navy in 1933.
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 Coronation Review of the Fleet at Spithead 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 Sir John Reith. At one point he told listeners "I'm sorry, I was telling some people to shut up talking." The BBC later explained that he was "tired and emotional". 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.". A year later his phrase "the fleet's lit up" was used as the title of a musical comedy, and in 1940 Hubert Gregg wrote the song "I'm gonna get lit up when the lights go up in London." 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, appearing on the BBC television programme Picture Page the following week and eating a hat shaped cake.
Woodrooffe rejoined the Admiralty in September 1939. In 1940 he served briefly as Commanding Officer of the light cruiser HMS Coventry. He spent the rest of World War II in the Press Division of the Admiralty.
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). He married Ida Helen Duncan (1900-1981) in 1927. He died in Kensington at the age of 79.
- The Life Summary of Thomas Borries Ralph, FamilySearch.
- Royal Navy (RN) Officers 1939-1945 on unithistories.com. Scroll down to his entry.
- Murray, Scott (16 June 2009). "Joy of Six: Broadcasting under the influence | Scott Murray". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077.
- Rodale, J. I.; Urdang, Laurence; Urdang, Nancy LaRoche (1996). The synonym finder. Rodale Press. p. 565. ISBN 978-0878572366.
- "Anorak News | The Fleet's Lit Up: Live BBC Broadcast Goes Wrong". Anorak News. 23 January 2009. Retrieved 6 July 2014.
- Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Catch Phrases, American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day, Rowman & Littlefield, 1992, pag. 89-90
- "He Ate His Hat!". The Times (47, 987). 6 May 1938. p. 14.