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September 1, 2022updated 07 Oct 2022 7:14am

Former BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull dies aged 66

By Silvia Pellegrino

Bill Turnbull, the former BBC Breakfast presenter, died on Wednesday aged 66.

The journalist was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017 and his family said he had put up a “challenging and committed fight” against the disease.

Turnbull’s family said in a statement: “Bill was diagnosed in 2017 and has had outstanding medical care from the Royal Marsden and Ipswich hospitals, St Elizabeth Hospice and his GP.

“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 his 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.”

Who was Bill Turnbull?

William Robert Jolyon Turnbull, journalist and presenter, was the main male host of BBC Breakfast from 2001 to 2016, as well as occasionally presenting the religious series Songs of Praise and the game show Think Tank. 

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Turnbull first entered the world of journalism when he began editing the student paper at the University of Edinburgh – at which point he decided it would be his future career. 

During one of his appearances on Good Morning Britain in 2021, after a break from his presenting job at Classic FM due to his cancer treatment, the veteran journalist joked about being “radioactive” to his former BBC Breakfast colleague Reid.

Turnbull was popular with his colleagues and Reid was one of those who paid tribute on Thursday, writing on Twitter: “Bill was the kindest, funniest, most generous man in the business. 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.”

Naga Munchetty, who also worked with Turnbull on BBC Breakfast, paid tribute live on-air on Thursday morning, saying: “I did my first ever presenting shift with him on Breakfast. He drove this programme and that’s what great presenters do and great journalists do, and we are all sending our thoughts and condolences as well to Sesi and Bill’s family. We will miss him very much.”

She added: “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.”

Where did Bill Turnbull work throughout his career?

Turnbull’s career began in 1978 when he joined a local Scottish station called Radio Clyde.

He joined the BBC as a reporter for Radio 4’s Today programme in 1986 and moved to become a correspondent for Breakfast Time two years later.

In 1990 he became a BBC News correspondent and reported from 30 countries, with a four-year stint as Washington correspondent during which time he covered the OJ Simpson trial.

On his return to the UK in 1997 Turnbull became one of the main BBC News 24 presenters and also worked at BBC Radio 5 Live presenting Weekend Breakfast.

In 2001, Turnbull joined the BBC Breakfast team on the weekends, while being a relief presenter during the week on News at Six and News at One.

Four years later, he participated in Strictly Come Dancing with Karen Hardy, coming sixth in the competition. During this period he also presented Songs of Praise for the BBC.

The veteran reporter covered the general election campaign trail in 2010, travelling across the UK while still being a Breakfast presenter. In 2015, it was announced that Turnbull’s last Breakfast episode would air on 26 February 2016, 15 years after his first.

Turnbull then joined Classic FM 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 because of his health. His cancer diagnosis was made public in March 2018, and he shared the details of his treatment in a Channel 4 documentary called Staying Alive.

Tributes paid to Bill Turnbull

Classic FM managing editor Philip Noyce said: “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.”

BBC Breakfast played a highlights reel of his career on Thursday, including his reporting on the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

The short obituary clip described him as “a much-loved fixture in people’s homes” who was “straight-forward about the condition, clear with his advice” after he announced his diagnosis.

BBC Breakfast will run a special programme in honour of Turnbull on Friday.

BBC director-general Tim Davie said: “Bill was a much loved and respected broadcaster and journalist – not just by viewers but by all those lucky enough to have worked with him.

“He always struck the right tone, no matter what the story. Warm, wise, professional and caring, he will be much missed by us all.

“Our thoughts go out to his family and many friends.”

BBC News presenter George Alagiah, who was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer in 2014, congratulated Turnbull “for setting an example for all of us living with life-threatening illness”.

He tweeted: “Very sad day for the millions who knew Bill from TV and for colleagues at the BBC.”

Sian Williams, who spent more than a decade hosting BBC Breakfast, thanked Turnbull “for the laughter and friendship” on Twitter.

“Goodbye, Billy. The kindest, most generous of presenters. A wonderful friend for 30 years. And a man devoted to his family. All thoughts and love with them,” she wrote.

Former BBC Breakfast co-presenter Louise Minchin highlighted Turnbull’s sense of humour: “Sending my love and thoughts to the family of my wonderful friend Bill Turnbull. He was a brilliant journalist, a stickler for accuracy, passionate about BBC Breakfast and a fabulously supportive and kind team-player,” she tweeted.

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

Picture: Roscoe & Rutter/BBC via PA Wire

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