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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Kerri-Ann Roper

Tributes paid to ‘remarkable broadcaster’ Bill Turnbull

PA Media

Bill Turnbull has been remembered as the “kindest, funniest, most generous man” by former colleagues following his death aged 66.

The former BBC Breakfast presenter’s family said he died “peacefully” at home in Suffolk on Wednesday after a “challenging and committed fight against prostate cancer”. He had been diagnosed in November 2017.

His family praised the treatment he received at the Royal Marsden and Ipswich hospitals, St Elizabeth Hospice and from his GP.

They added: “He was resolutely positive and was hugely buoyed by the support he received from friends, colleagues, and messages from people wishing him luck. It was a great comfort to Bill that so many more men are now testing earlier for this disease.

“Bill will be remembered by many as a remarkable broadcaster who brought warmth and humour into people’s homes on BBC Breakfast and Classic FM.

“He was also a devoted Wycombe Wanderers fan and an ever-aspiring beekeeper.

“Bill was a wonderful husband and father to his three children; his family and friends will miss how he always made them laugh, and the generosity and love he shared with those around him.”

Turnbull, who appeared on BBC Breakfast from 2001 until 2016, revealed the diagnosis in March 2018 and detailed his treatment in a Channel 4 documentary called Staying Alive.

BBC Breakfast presenters Charlie Stayt and Naga Munchetty paid an emotional tribute to Turnbull after his death was announced live on air on Thursday morning.

Both visibly tearful, they remembered their predecessor on the BBC One show as “our friend and former colleague” and an “amazing” journalist with a “wise head”.

Addressing viewers at the end of the show, Stayt said: “He was a wise head, he didn’t take himself too seriously when he sat here, which is a great combination.”

Bill Turnbull (Pete Dadds/Channel 4) (PA Media)

Munchetty added: “Of course all of us here are sending love and support to Bill’s family, to Sesi his wife, and I think today after we get over the shock of this, we will start remembering the really funny things that Bill did.

“When I was presenting with him, his energy was amazing, he came into this programme and threw everything at it. Every single day, he was funny when we sat here on sofa, he was a brilliant journalist, and he loved this programme and he loved serving you, the audience.

“So I’m sure you will miss him, and we certainly will too.”

BBC Radio 4 Today presenters Nick Robinson and Mishal Husain also remembered Turnbull, with Robinson saying on Thursday’s programme: “We’ve lost a very dear friend and an extraordinary broadcaster.

“There was a warmth to his broadcasting. People who watched breakfast television every day just knew how warm Bill was and perhaps what they forgot was what a bloody good journalist he was.

“This was a man who’d been a correspondent in Washington, who travelled 30 countries. He’d been in Moscow, he’d covered wars, he’d reported on the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

“That combination of a razor-sharp intellect, wit, humour and humanity came out every day when he was on Breakfast. It came out when as a reporter, and listeners of Classic FM will have heard him present beautifully as well, his love of music.

“I remember fondly, you do (too) Mishal – we’ve both been visitors to his house – that he and his wife, who met together, they met on this programme.”

Husain added: “He’ll be remembered across BBC News. Bill Turnbull, rest in peace.”

Turnbull’s former BBC co-host Susanna Reid and Dan Walker, who took over from him on the famous red sofa, also paid tribute.

Reid described him as “the kindest, funniest, most generous man in the business”.

She tweeted: “I feel lucky to have worked with him and he taught me everything.

“But above all, he was devoted to his family and I am heartbroken for them. RIP Bill. We will miss you so much.”

Walker, who moved from the BBC to Channel 5, tweeted: “Bill Turnbull was so kind and generous when I took over from him on BBC Breakfast. He was full of brilliant advice and it was clear just how loved he was by his colleagues and the audience. It was an honour to sit on his sofa.

“My thoughts are with his family and friends.”

Turnbull joined Classic FM in 2016 where he hosted Saturday and Sunday programmes from 10am to 1pm. He also launched and presented Classic FM’s Pet Classics, to help keep pets and their owners relaxed during fireworks season.

In October 2021 he took a leave of absence from the radio station for health reasons.

Philip Noyce, the managing editor of Classic FM, said in a statement: “I’m deeply saddened by this news.

“Bill was an absolute treasure of Classic FM whose presence on and off the air will forever be missed.

“He was a very gifted journalist and presenter, and he loved radio and understood its ability to connect with people on a personal level – something he did with ease and aplomb.

“As well as being an outstanding broadcaster, Bill was a family man, a devoted father and husband, who loved the company of friends (including the four-legged variety), and was passionate about music, football, nature and his beloved bees.

“We have lost an exceptionally talented broadcaster, but most of all we’ve said goodbye to a fine man who will be dearly missed by us all at Classic FM, as well as his many listeners.”

Bill Turnbull presents on stage with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra during Classic FM’s 25th birthday concert at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in 2017 (Matt Crossick/PA) (PA Archive)

Turnbull started his broadcast career at Radio Clyde in Scotland in 1978, joining the BBC as a reporter for the Today programme in 1986 before becoming a reporter for BBC’s Breakfast Time two years later.

In 1990, Turnbull became a correspondent for BBC News and reported from more than 30 countries, with notable stories he covered including the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the OJ Simpson trial.

After moving back to the UK, he became one of the main presenters on BBC News 24, as it was then called.

Turnbull also worked for BBC Radio 5 Live, including presenting Weekend Breakfast.

He joined BBC Breakfast in 2001 as a presenter alongside Sian Williams and they worked together until 2012 when she departed after the programme moved from London to Salford.

Turnbull then co-anchored alongside Reid until 2014, when she left to join ITV, and his other co-hosts included Louise Minchin.

On Twitter, Minchin highlighted Turnbull’s sense of humour, writing: “He was a brilliant journalist, a stickler for accuracy, passionate about @BBCBreakfast and a fabulously supportive and kind team-player.

“Most of all he was great fun, I love how he made me laugh.”

Williams, meanwhile, thanked Turnbull “for the laughter and friendship” and described him as “a wonderful friend for 30 years”.

Recalling his most memorable moments from his breakfast career as he signed off from the red sofa in February 2016, he recalled “nearly getting into a fight with a ventriloquist’s dummy called Bob” and wearing a jumper made of dog hair.

“It was all right, it was just very warm and I couldn’t get the stuff off me for weeks,” he said.

He made numerous television appearances outside of BBC Breakfast, including as the presenter on BBC One’s Songs Of Praise.

In 2005, he competed as a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing partnered with Karen Hardy, and was the seventh celebrity voted off the show.

Other TV appearances included on ITV’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and Through The Keyhole; the BBC’s Celebrity Mastermind, Would I Lie To You?, Pointless Celebrities and Room 101, and he also featured in dictionary corner on Channel 4′s Countdown.

In 2011 he played himself in the Doctor Who episode The Wedding Of River Song.

His passion for beekeeping led to the 2011 publication of his book The Bad Beekeepers Club, a humorous account of the ups and downs of an apiarist.

He is survived by his wife Sesi, who he married in March 1988, and their three children.

Prostate Cancer UK tweeted: “Our friend and ambassador Bill Turnbull has died.

“Bill worked tirelessly to raise awareness of prostate cancer following his diagnosis in 2017, and it was our privilege to work alongside him.

“Our thoughts are with Bill’s loved ones today.”

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