BBC Breakfast’s Naga Munchetty and colleagues remember ‘mentor’ Bill Turnbull

·6-min read
Bill Turnbull after his final episode of BBC Breakfast (BBC/PA) (PA Media)
Bill Turnbull after his final episode of BBC Breakfast (BBC/PA) (PA Media)

BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty recalled her first show on the programme’s red sofa sat alongside Bill Turnbull as she paid tribute to her former colleague following his death aged 66.

Munchetty joined colleagues past and present from the BBC and other broadcasters in remembering Turnbull and sharing anecdotes about the impact he had on their lives.

His family announced that he had “passed away peacefully at his home in Suffolk surrounded by his family on Wednesday, 31 August” after a “challenging and committed fight against prostate cancer”.

Munchetty, paying tribute to the former host live on air on Thursday morning, said: “I can only say as a team we are in shock this morning, we know what he meant to so many of you viewers.

“I can honestly say after having worked with Bill so closely as Mike (Bushell) you did, Charlie (Stayt), we all did, he cared so much about this programme and the audience.”

Turnbull was a fixture on BBC Breakfast for 15 years, before bidding farewell to the show in 2016.

He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017, speaking in 2018 about his treatment in a Channel 4 documentary called Staying Alive.

Munchetty said: “I did my first ever presenting shift with him on Breakfast.

“He drove this programme and that’s what great presenters do and great journalists do, and we are all sending our thoughts and condolences as well to Sesi and Bill’s family. We will miss him very much.”

Munchetty was joined by BBC Breakfast’s sports presenter Bushell, who told viewers how Turnbull “could change the mood brilliantly between the hard news and the lighter stuff”.

“We developed this banter and he was instrumental in getting me more regularly on BBC Breakfast. He became a mentor so I owe him so much,” Bushell said.

In a tweet Bushell said: “We are numb devastated by the passing of dear friend and former colleague #billturnbull ⁦@BBCBreakfast legend, my mentor 20 years ago, incredible talent to move from the harder news of the day to lighter stories with his clever wit warmth, our love, thoughts with his family.

BBC Breakfast presenters (from left) Bill Turnbull, Louise Minchin, Naga Munchetty and Charlie Stayt (BBC/PA) (PA Media)
BBC Breakfast presenters (from left) Bill Turnbull, Louise Minchin, Naga Munchetty and Charlie Stayt (BBC/PA) (PA Media)

“One of my favourite days since first meeting Billy when he helped me find my feet on the Breakfast sofa was a day out to watch him commentating on his beloved @wwfcofficial against @lufc 2009.

“He was brilliant at everything he did and most importantly the most wonderful company”.

The BBC show will remember Turnbull in a special programme to air on Friday morning.

A statement said: “We’ll look back at his 15 years hosting the show and speak to his former co-presenters Louise Minchin, Sian Williams and Susanna Reid.

“We’ll look at how he raised awareness about prostate cancer and shared his love of bee keeping.

“Sport presenter Mike Bushell will be at Wycombe – the club Bill loyally supported – and we’ll remember his lighter side from Strictly to the many times he discussed the weather with Carol Kirkwood.”

Editor Richard Frediani added: “Bill Turnbull loved our viewers and our viewers loved him. Friday’s BBC Breakfast will be a celebration of Bill’s life on and off screen which he shared with millions of viewers every week.”

Turnbull had been an avid supporter of Wycombe Wanderers and the club said they were mourning the passing of “an incredibly wonderful man and passionate supporter of our football club”.

A tweet added: “Rest in peace, Bill Turnbull. We will miss you so much”.

Sharing a message and photo of Turnbull’s last visit, they added: “Bill last’s visit to Adams Park was in April, when he cheered the boys on to a 1-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday.

“Gareth Ainsworth and Matt Bloomfield climbed the steps to give him the biggest of hugs at the final whistle.”

BBC news presenter George Alagiah, who was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer in 2014, congratulated Turnbull “for setting an example for all of us living with life-threatening illness”.

He tweeted: “Very sad day for the millions who knew Bill from TV and for colleagues at the BBC.

“Well done Bill for setting an example for all of us living with life-threatening illness. RIP”.

Turnbull competed as a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing partnered with Karen Hardy in 2005.

The BBC One show’s official Twitter account paid tribute, writing: “Sending heartfelt condolences to Bill Turnbull’s family and friends.

“A truly brilliant broadcaster turned ballroom dancer when he joined us on series three of Strictly.”

Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s The World At One, Louise Minchin recalled a 2013 incident in which Turnbull, then her BBC Breakfast co-host, was bitten by a mosquito which she had accidentally set free in the studio.

“Mostly I just remember him making me laugh. Today just going through all my photos and stuff has brought it all back. I am going to make myself emotional now but that for me will be the fondest way I will think about him in the years to come,” she said.

Speaking about Turnbull’s decision to go public with his prostate cancer diagnosis, Minchin added: “What an incredibly brave and actually really generous thing to do because this is so much a private thing, your health and all the rest of it.”

Good Morning Britain presenter Charlotte Hawkins tweeted: “Oh no, such gut-wrenchingly sad news that the wonderful @billtu has died.

“He was a brilliant broadcaster, not only for many years on the BBC but a much-loved colleague at @ClassicFM & @gmb. Such a gentleman who’ll be very much missed. I’ll be playing Strauss for you today Bill.”

BBC director-general Tim Davie said: “Bill was a much loved and respected broadcaster and journalist – not just by viewers but by all those lucky enough to have worked with him.

“He always struck the right tone, no matter what the story. Warm, wise, professional and caring, he will be much missed by us all.

“Our thoughts go out to his family and many friends.”