Folkestone and Sandgate turn out in stellar send off to former BBC space writer Reg Turnill


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Human interest | News

Human interest: Folkestone and Sandgate turn out in stellar send off to former BBC space writer Reg Turnill

Contributed by editor on Mar 12, 2013 - 06:45 AM


By Ray Duff

Around 150 people including veteran BBC broadcasters joined family, friends and local dignitaries at Reg Turnill's funeral at St Paul's Church, Sandgate on Friday (8 March).

The service commenced with a playing of Walton's 'Spitfire Prelude and Fugue', which marked the fact that Reg served as an RAF-Warrant Officer in WW2 and was followed by prayers and the hymn, The Lord is my Shepherd.

The' Reading' was unusual as it was a recording of astronaut Jim Lovell's famous words from the Book of Genesis; broadcast from Apollo 8, the first craft to circle the Moon, as it emerged from the far side of our satellite at Christmas 1967.

Tributes were paid to Reg by four speakers, James Wilkinson and Lewis Bronze from the BBC and  Reg's sons Michael and Graham Turnill.

James Wilkinson recalled how he first met Reg at the BBC in the 1950s when he became their aerospace correspondent just before the launch of the Soviet's 'Sputnik'.


From then on Reg provided detailed reports of all Russian and US space missions and covered the series of Apollo craft which culminated in the Moon landings.



Janine Umbers, artist & Sandgate Society, portrait of Reg Turnill (Oct 2012) adapted for the funeral service.

He and wife Margaret were frequent visitors at Houston and Cape Kennedy where they built up a formidable reputation, including the fact they endeared themselves to everyone for their devotion to taking tea! Reg also interviewed every Apollo astronaut; and many others; and went on to be the only UK journalist to win NASA's 'Chronicle Award' for his coverage on the Space Programme.


He was famously known for breaking the story of the Apollo 13's near disaster spending several days largely without sleep to bring the story to the world. For this and much else he was held in high regard by the US Press Corp.

After an enforced 'official' retirement from the BBC much to Reg's chagrin , he moved with his family to Sandgate and became a well known and involved figure in the area. However, he was lured back to the BBC via the then new John Craven's Newsround children's programme and later Blue Peter where he was instrumental in getting a live broadcast from the Soviet space mission with cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, and later broadcasts from the Space Shuttle missions which he covered from the Cape.

During his long lifetime and at work, he became the first journalist to fly faster than sound; and at the age of 80, undertook a 'weightlessness' flight aboard a Boeing 707. This though had to be undertaken in Holland as UK doctors wouldn't allow it.

This shows that Reg would never take no for an answer and he was renowned for his rather anti-authority stances including a love/hate relationship with the BBC from engineers to the top echelons. Despite this, the high regard he was held in, saw him through.

In later life Reg remained very active, contributing to various programmes, writing and editing many books including 'The Moon Landing- an eve-witness account', 'Celebrating Concorde',' Jane's Space Flight Directory' and the 'Observer Book of Space' amongst many others. He also wrote regularly in the Daily Telegraph even up until just last December.

He was also a very kind man, who was also willing to give time and encouragement to many people, including those with health problems. His son Michael told of his father striking up friendship with a Falklands veterans.

Finally, the many thousands of tributes from fellow journalists and space scientists from around the world; along with many from friends everywhere; shows that his work had been an inspiration to many. He will be very much missed.

The service ended to the Hymn: 'One More Step Along The World I Go' ; and then 'The Lark Assending' by Vaughan Williams.

Among the mourners were:

John Craven, BBC Broadcaster- NewsRound and Countryfile, Peter Sissions. Former BBC News reporter, Sandra Howard. author and wife of Lord Howard, Cllr Robert Bliss. Leader Shepway District Council, Cllr Roland Tolputt. KCC and Mrs H Tolputt, Roger and Liz Joyce and many members of the Sandgate Society.

Others included Mike & Janine Umbers, Michael Stainer, owner of The Grand and Chair of HG Wells Festival, Eamonn Rooney, local historian and Chair Leas Lift CiC, Nicholas Reed and Liz Scazafabo, Lilburne Press and Folkestone Creative magazine, Paul Harris local author, Yvonne Hutchcraft and Ray Duff, former members HG Wells Festival.

© Hawkinge Gazette and Channel Coast News 2013

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