When television journalist Bill Turnbull became the presenter of the BBC’s Breakfast Breakfast in 2001, he had years of experience reporting news from more than 30 countries.
That background gave Turnbull, who has died of prostate cancer at age 66, the authority to leave the studio on key news moments and anchor the program from troubled areas in Britain and abroad – from London’s King’s Cross train station. after the 2005 7/7 bombings of New Orleans and Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina the same year. He was also in Washington for the 2008 and 2012 US presidential elections and toured the UK during the 2010 general election.
In 2008, after hosting weekend editions of Breakfast for seven years, he became a weekday presenter, initially with Sian Williams as his main co-host. “I sit on the couch with a variety of delightful partners and we try to usher our audience into the day as friendly and informative as possible,” he once said. His tenure coincided with the move of the program from the BBC’s London studios to Salford in 2012. Four years later, he presented the show for the last time.
Turnbull was born in Guildford, Surrey, the son of William, a lawyer of Scottish descent who worked in the City of London, and Honor (nee Wicks), a teacher. a flat with future Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He gave up his studies but was determined to enter journalism after editing the student newspaper. So he trained at the Cardiff University Center for Journalism Studies, where he “discovered the joys of radio” and graduated in 1978.
That year, Turnbull joined Radio Clyde, in Glasgow, as a trainee reporter and in 1980 transferred to London commercial stations LBC and Capital Radio before moving to the US as a freelancer. This led him to make a documentary in 1985 about the problems facing the New York City subway for BBC Radio 4’s Actuality series. A year later, Turnbull became a reporter on the network’s Today programme.
In 1988 he moved to BBC television on Breakfast Time (later renamed Breakfast News, then Breakfast) and two years later began contributing to the major national news programmes. During this time he covered the Lockerbie disaster in 1988 and the Romanian revolution the following year.
A Washington correspondent for four years (1994-1998), he covered the OJ Simpson murder trial, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but said a live rain-soaked report of a Florida hurricane gave him the most has survived. .
In 1998 he returned to Britain, where he became a presenter on the new BBC channel News 24 and, in addition, from 1999 to 2001, Radio 5 Live’s weekend breakfast show. While he went on to host the Friday to Sunday editions of Breakfast on television, he was a stand-in newsreader on BBC One’s 6pm bulletin between 2003 and 2005.
Breakfast turned Turnbull into a personality, leading to guest appearances on Children in Need, as a panelist on Through the Keyhole in 2008, and as a partner to professional ballroom dancer Karen Hardy on the 2005-06 series of Strictly Come Dancing. In 2011, he and Williams interviewed Charles Dickens (played by Simon Callow) in the Doctor Who story The Wedding of River Song.
He hosted Songs of Praise (2012-14) and the quiz show Think Tank (2016), and narrated the children’s comedy sketch show Class Dismissed (2016). In 2016, two months after leaving Breakfast, he started hosting his own weekend radio show on Classic FM.
In 2017, shortly after recording an appearance on The Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up to Cancer, Turnbull was diagnosed with incurable prostate cancer that had spread to the bones in his legs, hips, pelvis and ribs. He said he’d had aches and pains for about a year, but attributed them to “old age.” He then campaigned for men to seek an early diagnosis of prostate cancer.
He reunited with his former Breakfast co-anchor Susanna Reid to present Good Morning Britain on ITV for three days in 2021 and presented his final Classic FM show later in the year.
Outside of the TV studios, Turnbull was a fan of the Wycombe Wanderers football club, who for many years provided online commentary on home games, and an avid beekeeper who sometimes auctioned honey for charity. “Keeping bees brings me so much joy,” he said. “There’s a zen-like calm you get when you go to a colony, open a beehive and the sun shines. It puts you in a good mood and takes you out of yourself.”
He dressed in his full beekeeper outfit to run the 2005 London Marathon, appeared on Celebrity Mastermind in 2008 with beekeeping as his specialty, wrote a book, The Bad Beekeepers Club (2010), and presented a 2013 Horizon documentary entitled What’s Killing Our Bee ?
Turnbull is survived by his wife, Sesi (Sarah) McCombie, a BBC radio producer and broadcaster, whom he married in 1988, and their three children, Henry, Will and Flora.