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Former BBC Breakfast host Bill Turnbull dies aged 66

TV presenter and journalist Bill Turnbull has died at the age of 66, his family said today.

Turnbull’s relatives said the former BBC Breakfast presenter died ‘peacefully’ at home in Suffolk yesterday after a ‘challenging and committed fight against prostate cancer’ which had been diagnosed in November 2017.

The news was also announced live on air by his emotional former colleagues Naga Munchetty and Charlie Stayt during this morning’s BBC Breakfast. 

Both visibly tearful, the duo remembered their predecessor on the BBC One morning show as ‘our friend and former colleague’ and an ‘amazing’ journalist with a ‘wise head’. 

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

In October last year he announced he was taking a leave of absence from his show on Classic FM for health reasons.

Stayt said on BBC Breakfast today: ‘Welcome back. We have some sad news to bring you now. Our former colleague, former Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull has died. He had been diagnosed with cancer in 2017.’

Munchetty then read out a statement from his wife Sesi which said: ‘Our lovely Billy died yesterday evening almost five years after being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. The last week of his life was very special – as the whole family was with him and we shared some wonderful moments.’

Bill Turnbull and Susanna Reid on ITV's Good Morning Britain on February 26, 2020

Bill Turnbull and Susanna Reid on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on February 26, 2020

Bill Turnbull with his wife Sesi as he leaves BBC Breakfast for the last time after 15 years of service on February 26, 2016

Bill Turnbull with his wife Sesi as he leaves BBC Breakfast for the last time after 15 years of service on February 26, 2016

Bill Turnbull was a contestant in the third series of Strictly Come Dancing, when he partnered with Karen Hardy

Bill Turnbull was a contestant in the third series of Strictly Come Dancing, when he partnered with Karen Hardy

The news was also announced on BBC Breakfast today by his emotional former colleagues Charlie Stayt and Naga Munchetty

The news was also announced on BBC Breakfast today by his emotional former colleagues Charlie Stayt and Naga Munchetty 

BBC Breakfast presenters past and present celebrating the programme's 25th Anniversary, including (Left to Right) Angela Rippon, Francis Wilson, Chris Hollins, Glyn Christian, Selena Scott, Sue Cook, Sian Williams, Mike Smith and Bill Turnbull

BBC Breakfast presenters past and present celebrating the programme’s 25th Anniversary, including (Left to Right) Angela Rippon, Francis Wilson, Chris Hollins, Glyn Christian, Selena Scott, Sue Cook, Sian Williams, Mike Smith and Bill Turnbull

Presenters Bill Turnbull and Susanna Reid on the BBC Breakfast set in Salford on April 2012

Presenters Bill Turnbull and Susanna Reid on the BBC Breakfast set in Salford on April 2012

(left to right) Charlie Stayt, Carol Kirkwood, Bill Turnbull, Simon Jack, Louise Minchin and Chris Hollins with the award for'Best TV Daytime Programme' at the TRIC (Television and Radio Industries Club) Annual Awards in London in March 2010

(left to right) Charlie Stayt, Carol Kirkwood, Bill Turnbull, Simon Jack, Louise Minchin and Chris Hollins with the award for ‘Best TV Daytime Programme’ at the TRIC (Television and Radio Industries Club) Annual Awards in London in March 2010

Former BBC Breakfast and Classic FM host Bill Turnbull has died at the age of 66, his family has said

Former BBC Breakfast and Classic FM host Bill Turnbull has died at the age of 66, his family has said 

Stayt added: ‘She goes on to say even though he was often in pain, Bill was dignified and brave throughout and he was his usual determined self right until the very end. Billy made us laugh everyday and we are immensely proud of him.’

Munchetty continued: ‘Our friend, our former colleague Breakfast presenter. Many of you will be familiar with, Bill Turnbull who we’ve just had the news has died after suffering with prostate cancer.

How Bill Turnbull woke up Britain with his calm and reassuring manner 

Bill Turnbull, who for 15 years woke up the nation as a presenter on the BBC Breakfast sofa, has died aged 66.

Across a four-decade career, he presented from the front line of British and foreign politics, as well as hosting an array of lighter gameshows and religious programmes.

William Robert Jolyon Turnbull was born on January 25 1956 in Guildford, Surrey.

Educated at Eton College, he attended the University of Edinburgh where he was editor of the student paper.

Turnbull started his broadcasting career at Scotland’s Radio Clyde in 1978.

He joined the BBC as a reporter for the Today programme in 1986 before becoming a correspondent for BBC’s Breakfast Time two years later.

Memorable stories he filed included the Lockerbie disaster in 1988 and the Romanian revolution of 1989.

In 1990, Turnbull became a correspondent for BBC News and reported from more than 30 countries.

During his four-year stint as the Washington correspondent, he covered the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the OJ Simpson trial and there was also a rain-drenched appearance on Breakfast during a hurricane in Florida.

After moving back to the UK in 1997, Turnbull became one of the main presenters on BBC News 24, as it was called back then.

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

Turnbull joined BBC Breakfast in 2001 as a presenter alongside Sian Williams.

They worked together until 2012 when Williams departed after the programme moved from London to Salford.

Celebrity fans including David Cameron, Frank Skinner and Miranda Hart sent farewell video messages to the presenter.

The former prime minister said: ‘Bill, throughout your career you have brought us the news from around the world, from war zones to the White House, but for the last 15 years we’ve been used to seeing you present from one iconic location – the BBC Breakfast sofa.

‘Now the day has come for you to swap that sofa for a bed and those long-awaited lie-ins. So on behalf of all the people who are used to starting their day with you, thank you.’

During those 15 years, the nation had woken up to Turnbull’s calm, reassuring manner.

However, in July 2015 he made an embarrassing slip-up live on air.

The Guildford-born broadcaster appeared to say ‘c***’ instead of ‘client’ while referring to reaction to a public health story.

In a statement, the BBC said he had ‘unintentionally stumbled’ over his words.

It was one of his most memorable moments on BBC Breakfast.

As a household name, Turnbull made numerous television appearances away from Breakfast.

He was a presenter on BBC One’s long-running Songs Of Praise.

In 2005, he competed as a contestant in the third series of Strictly Come Dancing. Partnered with Karen Hardy, he was the seventh celebrity voted off the show.

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

Arguably his most famous role came in a 2011 Doctor Who episode, The Wedding Of River Song, in which he played himself.

Turnbull’s passion for beekeeping led to the 2011 publication of his book The Bad Beekeepers Club, a humorous account of the ups and downs of the hobby.

In 2018, aged 63, he announced he had been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, and said he had been taking cannabidiol to tackle his symptoms.

Turnbull was filmed smoking cannabis with a vape for a Channel 4 documentary – Bill Turnbull: Staying Alive – following his attempts to find suitable treatment.

In his final years he presented a weekend radio show on Classic FM and appeared as a guest presenter on The One Show.

On a number of occasions in 2020 and 2021, Turnbull reunited with his former BBC Breakfast co-host Susanna Reid as a guest presenter on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

The pair fronted Breakfast together until 2014, when Reid left to join ITV.

In October 2021 he announced he was taking ‘a leave of absence’ from his weekend programme on Classic FM for ‘health reasons’.

The Wycombe Wanderers supporter was quoted on the club’s official website, from an interview with Prostate Cancer UK, as saying: ‘There’s a special atmosphere about Wycombe Wanderers because of where it is, such a lovely rural setting, and it’s small enough still to have that real club feeling about it where people do care about each other.’

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

‘Of course all of us here, sending love and support to Bill’s family, Sesi his wife, and I think today after we get over the shock of this we will start remembering the really fun things Bill did, like when I presented 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 the 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, but we certainly will too.’

And Stayt said: ‘He was a wise head, he didn’t take himself too seriously when he sat here which is a great combination.

BBC Breakfast played a highlights reel of Bill Turnbull’s career, which began at BBC Radio Clyde in Glasgow. He went on to report on the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Paying tribute, 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 prostate cancer diagnosis.

Turnbull told viewers after his diagnosis: ‘For heaven’s sake go and get yourself tested – if you catch it early then that’s much better than finding out too late.’

BBC Breakfast’s obituary concluded: ‘His openness had a remarkable impact – the number of people getting treatment for prostate cancer went up by more than a third in a year. helping thousands of other men remains perhaps his greatest legacy.’

Munchetty also said: ‘I can only say that as a team, we are in shock this morning. We know what he meant to you, so many viewers, and I can honestly say that having worked with Bill so closely, Mike [Bushell, sports presenter] you did, Charlie, we all did, but he cared so much about this programme and the audience and Sesi’s words about him being funny and lively until the end, that’s what Bill did.

Bushell said: ‘I remember when he joined, it was like ‘wow, Bill Turnbull’s joining Breakfast!’ We knew him as a really serious correspondent and when he joined and started working with him, I did the odd Breakfast shift and realised how funny he was, how he could change the mood brilliantly between the hard news and the lighter stuff and he was so funny. 

‘And then we developed this bandhood, and he was really instrumental in getting me more regularly on the BBC Breakfast sofa, he became a mentor so I owe him so much.

And Munchetty added: ‘I did my first ever shift with him on Breakfast. My first ever presenting shift. He just, he drove this programme didn’t he? And that’s what, you know, great presenters do and great journalists do. We are of course sending our thoughts and condolence as well to Sesi and to Bill’s family. We will miss him very much.

Stayt also said: ‘One side of it, of course, is the professional side that we all knew well. But the most important thing this morning of course is his family so we wish them all the best.’

Turnbull’s former co-presenter Susannah Reid wrote 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.’

His family praised the treatment he had received at the Royal Marsden and Ipswich hospitals, St Elizabeth Hospice and 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.’

BBC Radio 4 Today presenters Nick Robinson and Mishal Husain paid tribute to former BBC Breakfast presenter Turnbull following his death.

Speaking on the programme this morning, Robinson said: ‘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.

‘And 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.’

Former BBC presenter Dan Walker said it was an ‘honour to sit on his sofa’.

He 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.’

Former head of BBC TV News Roger Mosey said: ‘I am so desperately sad about the death of my dear friend Bill Turnbull. I will always remember him with our dogs and in the sunshine – and with great love.’ 

The Duchess of Cornwall walks with Bill Turnbull as she attends a Bees for Development event at Marlborough House in London in June 2019

The Duchess of Cornwall walks with Bill Turnbull as she attends a Bees for Development event at Marlborough House in London in June 2019

Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams at the TRIC Awards at Grosvenor House hotel on Park Lane in London on March 3, 2012

Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams at the TRIC Awards at Grosvenor House hotel on Park Lane in London on March 3, 2012

BBC Breakfast presenters (left to right) Bill Turnbull, Louise Minchin, Naga Munchetty and Charlie Stayt

BBC Breakfast presenters (left to right) Bill Turnbull, Louise Minchin, Naga Munchetty and Charlie Stayt 

Bill Turnbull has died at the age of 66, his family has said

Bill Turnbull has died at the age of 66, his family has said

Bill Turnbull with his Newscaster/ Reporter award at the TRIC (Television and Radio Industries Club) Awards in London in 2011

Bill Turnbull with his Newscaster/ Reporter award at the TRIC (Television and Radio Industries Club) Awards in London in 2011

Bill Turnbull

Bill Turnbull

Bill Turnbull pictured at Global’s Make Some Noise Day held at Global Radio in London in October 2016 (left), and arriving at the Classic Brit Awards 2018 at the Royal Albert Hall in London in Juny 2018 (right) 

Sian Williams and Bill Turnbull arriving for the 2010 TV Choice awards at the Dorchester Hotel in London in September 2010

Sian Williams and Bill Turnbull arriving for the 2010 TV Choice awards at the Dorchester Hotel in London in September 2010 

Former BBC Breakfast presenter Steph McGovern said: ‘Absolutely gutted that our Bill Turnbull has passed away.

Bill Turnbull: Inspiring men to have prostate test was ‘the one useful thing I did’ 

Bill Turnbull said inspiring men to get tested for prostate cancer by publicly revealing his own diagnosis was the ‘one useful thing’ he had done in his life.

Turnbull, 66, was diagnosed in 2017 and admitted he was ‘cross with myself’ for the pride he had felt at not visiting a GP in four years.

The former BBC Breakfast and Classic FM broadcaster had prostate tests at the age of 40 and 50 but said the disease had already spread to his bones when he saw a doctor about long-term aches and pains which he had put down to ‘old age’.

The charity Prostate Cancer UK said the disease kills more than 11,500 men in the UK every year.

– What is prostate cancer?

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland found in men. It sits beneath the bladder and surrounds the urethra and its main function is to produce a thick white fluid that creates semen when mixed with the sperm produced by the testicles.

Prostate cancer means its cells start to divide and grow uncontrollably, sometimes spreading throughout the body.

Roughly one in every eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, according to Prostate Cancer UK, making it the most common male cancer in the UK.

– What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?

Symptoms will usually not appear until the cancer is large enough to press against the urethra.

If you find yourself needing to urinate more often, having to wait longer before you can pass urine, or urinating involuntarily after going to the toilet, it is a good idea to get checked by a doctor, although Prostate Cancer UK says it is more likely to be a sign of a very common non-cancerous problem called an enlarged prostate, or another health problem.

Other warning signs include erectile dysfunction, blood in urine, weight loss or any new and unexplained lower back pain.

– Who is most at risk of prostate cancer?

The NHS website says the risk of prostate cancer increases as you get older, with most cases developing in men aged 50 or older.

Black men are more likely to be affected, while it is less common among Asians.

Recent research suggests obesity increases the risk.

– How is prostate cancer diagnosed?

After discussing symptoms, a doctor is likely to ask for a urine sample to be checked for infection and a blood sample to test the level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA).

A digital rectal examination, when a gloved finger is inserted into the bottom, can be used to examine the prostate.

The GP will assess the risk of prostate cancer based on these tests as well as age, family history and ethnic group.

If a patient is at risk, the NHS website says they should be referred to hospital to discuss the options of further tests which could include an MRI scan or a biopsy.

Men aged 50 can request a PSA test from their GP but the NHS website says there is no national screening programme for prostate cancer in the UK because the test is not always accurate.

– How is prostate cancer treated?

Some people will not require immediate treatment and will be monitored.

This can be because the disease is in its early stages and is not causing symptoms or because it is unlikely to affect their natural lifespan because of their age.

This may include having regular PSA tests, MRI scans and sometimes biopsies to ensure any signs of progression are found as early as possible.

There are two key ways to treat prostate cancer: radiotherapy or surgery to remove the prostate.

Cancer Research UK says more than 85% of men will survive their prostate cancer for five years and almost 80% for 10 years or more.

– Who else has had prostate cancer?

Musician Jools Holland revealed earlier this year that he had been successfully treated for prostate cancer after a diagnosis in 2014.

He performed at a concert organised by Prostate Cancer UK alongside Sir Rod Stewart, who was given the all-clear in 2019, two years after diagnosis.

‘Guys, you’ve got to really go to the doctor,’ Sir Rod urged ahead of his performance.

Stephen Fry said he was ‘stunned’ after finding he had prostate cancer in 2018, but recovered because his disease was spotted early.

In April, former Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal revealed numerous radiation treatments had cured his cancer.

‘I had to wait five or six months to see if it had done its job,’ he said. ‘It did.’

‘A fantastic broadcaster and a brilliant friend… I learnt so much from him. And we had some cracking arguments about how you should pronounce words like ‘poor’. We all loved him. RIP Bill.’

And BBC broadcaster John Simpson described Turnbull as ‘charming’ as well as being a ‘sharp reporter’.

He tweeted: ‘Very sorry to hear of the death of my former colleague Bill Turnbull.

‘He was charming and relaxed, and managed to combine being a clever, sharp reporter with sympathetic understanding as an interviewer. And he faced a vicious disease with great courage.’

And Piers Morgan said: ‘RIP Bill Turnbull, 66. One of the best broadcasters in Britain, and such a smart, funny, warm & generous-spirited man. 

‘Fought his illness with typical stoicism, courage and humour. Bill made presenting live TV look so effortless, which was his great talent. Such sad news.’

Lord Alan Sugar tweeted: ‘Sadly Bill Turnbull has passed he was a great presenter and a nice guy R.I.P’.

And presenter and writer Danny Wallace described Bill Turnbull as ‘a brilliant man’.

In a heartfelt tribute, he tweeted: ‘Bill Turnbull was my friend.

‘He was hilarious, with a huge brain. He sent me a book just recently which I’ll treasure. I sent him a Beano.

‘I got a dog because one day in his kitchen he told me to get a dog. He was a brilliant man. I’ll miss you, pal. I’ll look after the dog. x’

Philip Noyce, the managing editor of Classic FM, paid tribute to Bill Turnbull saying 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.’

Former BBC Breakfast presenter 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.

Turnbull started his broadcast career at Scotland’s Radio Clyde 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 called back then.

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.

The presenter co-anchored alongside Susanna Reid, with the pair presenting together until 2014, when Reid left the show to join ITV, and Turnbull’s other co-hosts included Louise Minchin and more.

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 include 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 appeared in the dictionary corner for Channel 4’s Countdown.

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

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.

A tweet from BBC Breakfast said: ‘Former BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull has died. He was 66. He was loved by our viewers. He was loved by his colleagues.

‘Bill will always be remembered for his warmth, humour and being a brilliant journalist.’

A tweet from Classic FM described the radio station’s former presenter as ‘one of the nation’s most admired broadcasters’.

The tweet read: ‘We are very sad to say that Bill Turnbull, one of the nation’s most admired broadcasters who was much-loved by all at Classic FM, has died aged 66. Our thoughts are with Bill’s family at this time.’

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.’

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11168331/Former-BBC-Breakfast-host-Bill-Turnbull-dies-aged-66.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Former BBC Breakfast host Bill Turnbull dies aged 66

Emma Colton

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