Reginald Turnill

Last updated

Reginald Turnill
Born(1915-05-12)12 May 1915
Dover, Kent
Died12 February 2013(2013-02-12) (aged 97)
near Ashford, Kent
OccupationAviation and space correspondent for the BBC
Notable credit(s)
BBC TV News, BBC World Service, BBC Radio 4
Spouse(s)Margaret Hennings
Children2 sons

Reginald George Turnill (12 May 1915 12 February 2013) [1] was the BBC's aviation (and space) correspondent for twenty years during the beginnings of manned space exploration and the early jet age in aviation, including the breakthrough in supersonic passenger flight represented by Concorde. He covered NASA's space missions and all the Apollo program moon missions for the BBC. [2] Turnill's connection with the BBC, as a freelance, continued for some years after his official retirement.

Space exploration Discovery and exploration of outer space

Space exploration is the discovery and exploration of celestial structures in outer space by developing and growing space technology. While the study of space is carried out mainly by astronomers with telescopes, the physical exploration of space is conducted both by unmanned robotic space probes and human spaceflight.

Concorde Supersonic airliner

The Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde is a French-British turbojet-powered supersonic passenger airliner that was operated from 1976 until 2003. It had a maximum speed over twice the speed of sound at Mach 2.04, with seating for 92 to 128 passengers. First flown in 1969, Concorde entered service in 1976 and continued flying for the next 27 years. It is one of only two supersonic transports to have been operated commercially; the other is the Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-144, which operated in the late 1970s.

NASA space-related agency of the United States government

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.



Reginald Turnill began his career at the age of 15 as a reporter's telephonist at the Press Association, the British news agency, becoming a reporter by 1935. [3] After war service as a machine gunner in the Middlesex Regiment, and as a warrant officer reporting courts martial for the Judge Advocate General’s department in Naples, [3] he returned to the Press Association in 1946, [1] where he remained until his recruitment by the BBC in 1956 as assistant industrial correspondent.

In 1958 he became the Corporation's Air and Space Correspondent, with a brief to include defence as well. He was not a War correspondent; he concentrated on technology. He became friendly with Wernher von Braun, who was only three years older, although his approach was initially frosty and reticent. [1] He covered all the manned spaceflights as well as the introduction of passenger jets from the Comet IV to Concorde.

Wernher von Braun German, later an American, aerospace engineer and space architect

Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun was a German and later American aerospace engineer and space architect. He was the leading figure in the development of rocket technology in Germany and a pioneer of rocket technology and space science in the United States.

On 2 March 1969 he was the BBC's reporter on Concorde's maiden flight at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport. [4]

In April 1970, he was the first journalist to report on the Apollo 13 catastrophe via the BBC World Service when based at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center on 13 April 1970. [5]

Apollo 13 A failed crewed mission to land on the Moon

Apollo 13 was the seventh crewed mission in the Apollo space program and the third intended to land on the Moon. The craft was launched on April 11, 1970, from Kennedy Space Center, but the lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank in the service module (SM) exploded two days into the mission. The explosion resulted in a loss of power to the command module (CM) and rendered it uninhabitable, forcing the crew to use the lunar module (LM) as a lifeboat. Despite great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of potable water, and the critical need to make makeshift repairs to the carbon dioxide removal system, the crew returned safely to Earth on April 17, 1970, six days after launch.

BBC World Service The BBCs international radio station

The BBC World Service, the world's largest international broadcaster, broadcasts radio and television news, speech and discussions in more than 40 languages to many parts of the world on analogue and digital shortwave platforms, internet streaming, podcasting, satellite, DAB, FM and MW relays. In November 2016 the BBC announced again that it would start broadcasting in additional languages including Amharic and Igbo, in its biggest expansion since the 1940s. In 2015 World Service reached an average of 210 million people a week. The English-language service broadcasts 24 hours a day.

After retiring from the BBC staff on his 60th birthday he continued working as a freelance broadcaster, writing many books and continuing as Newsround's Space Editor until the mid-1980s. In 1990 he presented Return Ticket, a five-part Radio 4 series about the Apollo 13 mission.

<i>Newsround</i> BBC childrens news programme

Newsround is a BBC children's news programme, which has run continuously since 4 April 1972. It was one of the world's first television news magazines aimed specifically at children. Initially commissioned as a short series by BBC Children's Department, who held editorial control, its facilities were provided by BBC News. The programme is aimed at 6 to 10 year olds.

He was largely superseded at the BBC by Christopher Wain.


He contributed to series of books notably the Observer's Book of Manned Spaceflight and the Observer's Book of Unmanned Spaceflight in the 1970s, published by Frederick Warne & Co. In the 1980s he edited the Jane's Spaceflight Directory. He was particularly disappointed by the cancellation of the Black Arrow British space programme in July 1971, at the very moment it was providing results.

Turnill wrote many obituaries of people involved in aerospace and other figures for The Guardian , The Times and The Daily Telegraph , the last to appear during his lifetime being of Sir James Hamilton, who helped design Concorde's wing. It appeared in The Guardian in May 2012.

Following a few months of poor health Turnill died at the Pilgrim's Hospice in Ashford, Kent, on 12 February 2013. [6] In 2006 he won the Sir Arthur Clarke Award Lifetime Achievement Award. [7]

Personal life

He married Margaret Hennings in 1938 in Westminster. They have two sons (born 1940 and 1944). He lived in Sandgate, Kent.

In his early life, the 18th century poet John Clare had a great affection for the brothers John and Richard Turnill, whose father Robert was a local farmer; Robert was Reg's great-great-grandfather. In his Autobiographical Fragments, Clare says:

Among all the friendships I have made in life those of school friendship and childish acquantance are the sweetest to remember. There is no deception among them......they are not found like bargains or matters of interest nor broken for selfish ends - I made but few close friendships for I found few with the like tastes inclinations and feelings. John's (ed. Turnill) acquantance began with learning me on winter nights to write and sum.....he was of a studious musing turn of mind and fond of books always carrying one of some sort or other in his pocket to read between toils at leisure hours.

Clare goes on to say:

...he would be making his telescopes of paste board and study the stars with the assistance of a book.

So the young John Turnill liked books, the stars and was of a generous nature. Clare dedicated a sonnet to him:

Turnill, we toiled together all the day,
And lived like hermits from the boys at play;
We read and walked together round the fields,
Not for the beauty that the journey yields -
But muddied fish, and bragged o'er what we caught,
And talked about the few old books we bought.
Though low in price you knew their value well,
And I thought nothing could their worth excel;
And then we talked of what we wished to buy,
And knowledge always kept our pockets dry.
We went the nearest ways, and hummed a song,
And snatched the pea pods as we went along,
And often stooped for hunger on the way
To eat the sour grass in the meadow hay.


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