Scotsman Obituaries: Bill Turnbull, BBC Breakfast genius host and beekeeper

Bill Turnbull’s humor and warmth was remembered after his death last week at the age of 66, a familiar face on BBC news and light entertainment shows for decades.

His family said the BBC Breakfast presenter died “peacefully” at home in Suffolk on Wednesday after a “challenging and committed battle with prostate cancer”, diagnosed in November 2017.

Turnbull, who appeared on the BBC1 show from 2001 to 2016, revealed the diagnosis in March 2018 and describes his treatment in a Channel 4 documentary called Staying Alive. Last October, he announced he was taking a leave of absence from his show on Classic FM for health reasons.

Bill Turnbull after his last episode of BBC Breakfast in 2016

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

Bill will be remembered by many as a remarkable broadcaster who brought warmth and humor into the home on BBC Breakfast and Classic FM. He was also a devoted Wycombe Wanderers fan and an ever ambitious beekeeper.

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

He began his broadcasting career with Radio Clyde in 1978 and joined the BBC in 1986 as a reporter for the Today program before becoming a reporter for BBC’s Breakfast Time two years later. In 1990, Turnbull became a correspondent for BBC News, reporting from over 30 countries, with notable stories he covered, including the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the OJ Simpson trial.

Bill Turnbull shares BBC Breakfast’s famous red sofa with Susanna Reid in 2012 (Photos: PA)

After returning to the UK, he became one of the main presenters on BBC News 24, as it was then known. 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 left after the program moved from London to Salford. The presenter then 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 were Louise Minchin and Naga Munchetty.

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Recalling his most memorable moments from his breakfast career when he retired from the red couch in February 2016, he recalled “nearly getting into a fight with a ventriloquist doll named Bob” and wearing a dog hair sweater. “It was fine, it was just really hot and I couldn’t get the stuff off of me for weeks,” he said.

He made numerous television appearances outside of BBC Breakfast, including as a presenter on BBC One’s Songs Of Praise. In 2005, he competed as a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing along with Karen Hardy, becoming the seventh celebrity to be voted out of the show.

Other TV appearances include Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, Through The Keyhole, Celebrity Mastermind, Would I Lie To You?, Pointless Celebrities, Room 101 and Countdown. And in 2011, he played himself in the Doctor Who episode The Wedding Of River Song.

His passion for beekeeping led to the publication of his book The Bad Beekeepers Club in 2011, a humorous account of the fortunes of a beekeeper.

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

Stayt addressed viewers and said: “He was a wise head, he didn’t take himself too seriously when he was sitting here, which is a great combination.”

Munchetty added: “When I presented with him, his energy was amazing, he came into this program and threw everything on it. Every day he was funny when we sat here on the couch, he was a brilliant journalist, and he loved this program and he loved serving you, the audience. So I’m sure you’ll miss him, and so will we.”

Susanna Reid wrote on Twitter: “Bill was the nicest, funniest and most generous man in the company. I feel privileged to have worked with him and he taught me everything. But most of all he was devoted to his family and I am heartbroken for them. RIP bill. We will miss you so much.”

BBC Radio 4 Today presenters Nick Robinson and Mishal Husain also recalled Turnbull, while Robinson said on Thursday’s programme: “We have lost a very dear friend and an extraordinary announcer. There was a warmth to his broadcast. People who watched breakfast TV every day just knew how hot Bill was and maybe they forgot what a damn good journalist he was.

“This was a man who had been a correspondent in Washington and traveled to 30 countries. He’d been to Moscow, he’d reported on wars, he’d reported on the troubles in Northern Ireland. That combination of razor-sharp intellect, wit, wit, and humanity showed up every day when he was at Breakfast. It came out when he, as a reporter, and listeners of Classic FM have also heard him beautifully present his love for music.”

Bill Turnbull is survived by his wife, Sesi (Sarah) McCombie and their three children, Henry, Will and Flora

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