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Former NUJ president Mark Turnbull dies aged 50

Mark with his mother in the Lucas Arms, London

Mark with his mother in the Lucas Arms, London  -  © Ronan Quinlan

10 June 2013

Former NUJ President Mark Turnbull, who has died aged 50 after a short illness, was one of the north of England's best-known radio personalities and journalists.

Mark, who was blind from birth, made his name reporting on darts and snooker for the Press Association. He also worked for the Northern Echo and the Darlington & Stockton Times. He spent 18 years in local radio in the North East and was known for the close relationship he had with his listeners at BBC Radio Cleveland (now BBC Tees), where he was a presenter and producer.

Among his career highlights was the first broadcast interview he did with Tony Blair after he stepped down as Prime Minister. He was also the first blind chairman of a magistrate's court in England, serving at Teesside Combined Courts, and was an accomplished pianist, once playing with Frank Sinatra.

Mark's NUJ colleague and fellow-presenter, Ken Snowdon, said:

"In a grey world Mark was a burst of colour. The world is now more monochrome without him. I can't imagine a world without him."

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"Mark Turnbull made a great contribution to the development of the NUJ, in particular by showing that journalists with disabilities can play a full role in the union's work as valued members of our community."

Chris Morley, NUJ northern and midlands organiser, recalls:

"Mark was a compelling personality who swept up all before him, either as a strong member of our national executive council, or socially when he was wickedly indescrete with his trademark gin and tonic in hand.
"As a fellow NEC member at the time I was always amazed at this capacity to absorb his brief - especially as vice president and then president - and then fire the bullets to the targets that needed hitting.
"I will never forget how, as president, he took the time and trouble to attend a fundraising skittles social for one of the smallest branches in the union at Stourbridge, cheerily negotiating himself on and off the late night trains to make sure he could support his members who had asked him to come."

Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish secretary, was Mark's host on the several visits he made to Ireland as the union's president. Seamus recalls:

"Mark Turnbull was a big man - big in stature and big in heart. He could be argumentative, irritatingly pedantic and totally unpredictable but he was also kind, generous and great fun.
"As President, he visited the then Irish Labour Party leader Ruairí Quinn in Leinster House and attended a P&PR branch seminar at which he charmed guests with his irreverent wit.
"Because of his love of music, I brought him to St Mary's Pro Cathedral, Dublin, to hear the Palestrina choir. The mass was broadcast live and Mark insisted on sitting in the front pew. As we left, he proclaimed to the celebrant at the door that the mass was wonderful adding 'except you spoke for 12 minutes, that's too long, dear boy, for a sermon.'"

Tags: , BBC, broadcasting, radio, disabled members, Press Association