Tributes for 'funny, lovely' former BBC Breakfast host Bill Turnbull

Peter Smith reports as friends and former colleagues pay tribute to the life of Bill Turnbull.

Tributes have poured in for the former BBC Breakfast host Bill Turnbull who has died at the age of 66, his family has said.

"I will always remember Bill mostly for being so funny that he made me laugh every single day I worked with him on BBC Breakfast," Turnbull's ex Breakfast co-presenter, Louise Minchin, told ITV News.

"He had this wicked, infectious, naughty sense of humour and sometimes, honestly, I'd just have to catch his eye and he would make me giggle."

Dr Sian Williams added: "He was a man who was just lovely to be with. He was a really decent bloke and I'm gonna miss him. And I think so many others will."

A statement from his family said: “Following a challenging and committed fight against prostate cancer, Bill passed away peacefully at his home in Suffolk surrounded by his family on Wednesday, 31st August.

“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 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.

“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.”

Bill Turnbull presents on stage with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra during Classic FM's 25th Birthday concert. Credit: PA

Turnbull, who appeared on BBC Breakfast from 2001 until 2016, had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017.

'The most generous man in the business'

Turnbull’s former colleague and co-presenter, Susanna 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.”

Former BBC presenter Dan Walker remembered Turnbull, saying 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.

BBC broadcaster John Simpson described Turnbull as “charming” as well as being a “sharp reporter”, while former BBC Breakfast presenter Steph McGovern said he was "a fantastic broadcaster and a brilliant friend".

BBC Radio 4 Today presenters Nick Robinson and Mishal Husain also paid tribute to the former BBC Breakfast presenter.

Speaking on the programme on Thursday 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."

Adding to the tributes, BBC sports presenter Mike Bushell said the team are "numb" and "devastated" by the passing of a "dear friend and former colleague".

BBC breakfast hosts Charlie Stayt and Naga Munchetty, both visibly tearful, remembered their predecessor on the BBC One morning show as “our friend and former colleague” and an “amazing” journalist with a “wise head”.

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

Munchetty added: “Of course all of us here are sending love and support to Bill’s family, to Sessie 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.

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."

Turnbull revealed his prostate cancer diagnosis in March 2018, saying he was diagnosed the previous November, and he 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.

Announcing the news on social media, Turnbull said he was taking “a leave of absence” from his weekend programme, which he had fronted for five years.

He 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.

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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.

Bill Turnbull and Susanna Reid on the BBC Breakfast set in Salford. Credit: PA

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.

Signs and symptoms of prostate cancer

  • Frequent urination

  • Weak or interrupted urine flow or the need to strain to empty the bladder

  • The urge to urinate frequently at night

  • Blood in the urine

  • New onset of erectile dysfunction

  • Pain or burning during urination - which is much less common

What should you do if you are worried?

  • There is no way of knowing if you have prostate cancer without visiting your doctor, as most men with early prostate cancer don’t have any symptoms.

  • If you do have symptoms they can be caused by other things. You can’t check for prostate cancer yourself.

  • Speak to your GP if you're over 50, or over 45 if you have a family history of prostate cancer or are a black man, even if you don't have any symptoms