BBC Thanksgiving Service Tribute

Owen Bentley shared remembrances of John at the Thanksgiving Service:

In 1968 the appointment of a BBC Radio producer from the ranks of factory inspectors was not to be expected. John Turtle was the exception but you would never have doubted his creativity and his practical skills if you’d known him, as I and Jenny Turtle most certainly did, from university days at UCL where he wrote and produced many sparkling revues and built amazing sets in his capacity as Chief Stage Manager. He also was no slouch on sound systems, microphones and PA – all of which would stand him in good stead at the BBC. You get an early inkling from the titles of the revues of John’s sardonic sense of humour –Falling Flat, Fading Fast and Flash in the Pan!

John began his BBC career in the Further Education department but soon moved on to General Current Affairs with spells at Radio Training; one course he ran on the new art of recording in stereo reveals the techie in him. By 1975 He had become Editor, Consumer Programmes, a job which fitted like a glove given John’s pre-BBC background in consumer protection. Here he was responsible for that staple of the Radio 4 output “You and Yours” to which he added the Shopping Basket feature and in so doing launched the broadcasting career of Sue Cook. Also within his care was Checkpoint, the flagship investigative programme that often took on dubious and litigious businessmen. John’s wry and waspish sense of humour proved a valuable tool in encouraging but occasionally reining in the boundary-pushing Checkpoint duo of John Edwards, producer, and Roger Cook, the abrasive reporter and presenter.

John Press Card

In 1979 John became Head of Radio Training, a post he would fill for a decade until he left the BBC in 1988 and a generation of BBC producers and studio managers benefited from the revitalised courses devised by John, Bennett Maxwell and his team.

The unit and its studios were based in the Langham also the home of the BBC Club in the days when the best ideas were generated over a lunchtime pint. John was regularly to be seen in the club bar in creative conversation with other radio heads and with his shock of hair, craggy looks, tweedy jacket, tie and the ever present pipe cut a somewhat retro figure amidst the more fashionable metropolitan types who also gathered there. John was always proud of his King’s Lynn roots and his style breathed the big outdoors and was exemplified by his passion for sailing. He was an active member of the BBC Yacht Club later owning a succession of his own sailing cruisers.

He left the BBC staff in 1988 but freelanced as a producer, trainer and consultant for the next twenty years producing the Learning World for the World Service and, notably, running 16 training missions in Nepal. No surprise then that John, a clubbable man at all times became a member of the Britain-Nepal Society He also ran courses for the BFBS, the British Forces Broadcasting Service. There his trainees were put to work on the dummy network, Radio Angora, and recall John playing the role, complete with spotless white suit, of an irascible interfering British High Commissioner, Sir Gregory Tweed, OBE and bar. Gregarious and as opinionated as ever the real John Turtle, through his work at Bush House, joined the Bushmen, the legendary dining and cricket club of Bush House stalwarts. His was also a regular presence at the twice yearly lunches of the Former Heads of Radio held at the Savile, John’s own London club. And that is where I last saw him at the December lunch. Ill health may have taken its toll but his wit and presence was no less than I, and of course, Jenny, had first encountered 55 years ago at UCL.


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