Broadcaster Bill Turnbull dies at 66: Who was Bill Turnbull, the BBC Breakfast host who "woke the nation" for 15 years?

BBC Breakfast star of 15 years, Bill Turnbull, died at age 66 after a long battle with prostate cancer. In remembrance, here’s what you should know about the legendary TV broadcaster and why he was beloved by the nation.

Journalist and TV presenter Bill Turnbull appeared on BBC Breakfast from 2001 to 2016, but was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017.

A spokesperson on behalf of Turnbull’s 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, 31 August.”

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Who was Bill Turnbull?

Bill Turnbull, the presenter who "woke up the nation" on BBC Breakfast for 15 years, has passed away after his battle with prostate cancer.
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William Robert Jolyon Turnbull was the TV presenter and journalist who “woke the nation” as a presenter on the BBC Breakfast sofa.

Turnbull was born on January 25, 1956 in Guildford, Surrey and passed away 31 August, 2022 at his home in Suffolk.

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He was educated at Eton College, then attended the University of Edinburgh where he was the editor of the student newspaper.

Across his career of four decades, Turnbull was at the frontline of British and foreign politics, while also hosting an array of entertainment shows and religious programmes like ‘Songs of Praise’.

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Bill Turnbull supports Global’s Make Some Noise day – the charity set up by Global, the media and entertainment group, to help disadvantaged youngsters across the UK, held at Global Radio, London.

What was Bill Turnbull known for?

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

He became a reporter for the ‘Today’ programme at BBC in 1986 prior to joining BBC’s Breakfast Time two years later as a correspondent. Turnbull covered many famous stories during this time like the Romanian revolution of 1989.

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By 1990 he began work for BBC News where he reported stories from dozens of countries. For four years he acted as a Washington correspondent and covered controversies such as the OJ Simpson trial and the Monica Lewinsky trial.

Perhaps most famously of all, Turnbull joined BBC Breakfast in 2001 as a presenter alongside Sian Williams and he did so until his departure in 2016.

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During those 15 years, he cemented his reputation as a calm and reassuring presenter.

However, in July 2015, Turnbull made a ‘memorable’ mistake live on air when he appeared to say “c***” rather than “client” during a public health story.

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The BBC, in a statement, stated that he had “unintentionally stumbled” over his words.

How did Bill Turnbull die?

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The Guildford-born presenter shared his prostate cancer diagnosis back in March 2018, revealing he was diagnosed in November 2017.

Turnbull described his treatment during a Channel 4 documentary called Staying Alive.

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In October 2021, he announced that he was taking a “leave of absence” from his weekend programme on Classic FM due to “health reasons”.

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

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“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.”

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Bill Turnbull is survived by his wife Sarah, the two got married in March 1988 and had three children together.

Was Bill Turnbull famous outside of journalism?

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Bill Turnbull added to his fame with a number of TV appearances outside of journalism or TV hosting.

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

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He also appeared in ITV’s ‘Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?’, BBC’s ‘Celebrity Mastermind’, ‘Would I Lie To You?’, ‘Pointless Celebrities’, ‘Room 101, ‘Through The Keyhole’, and Channel 4’s ‘Countdown’.

One of his more legendary TV roles came when he played himself in an episode of Doctor Who entitled ‘The Wedding of River Song’ in 2011.

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Turnbull was also well regarded for his passion for beekeeping which led to his publication of ‘The Bad Beekeepers Club’ in 2011 which humorously detailed the highs and lows of being an apiarist.