Pioneering broadcaster no more - Appreciation Sunday Times Dec 22 2002
Vernon Corea, Sri Lanka's pioneering broadcaster, died on September 23 this year aged 75 years. He was born in Kurana, Katunayake on September 11, 1927. A descendent of Dominicus Corea, King of Kotte in the 16th century, his parents were the late Canon Ivan Corea and Ouida Corea. Canon Corea was one time Rural Dean of Colombo for the Church of Sri Lanka and Vicar of St. Luke's Church, Borella.
Vernon was educated at Royal College, Colombo
where he played an active role from being a member of the debating society to
playing tennis. He was also educated at Bishops' Theological College in
Calcutta, India but decided not to pursue ordination.
Vernon Corea returned to Sri Lanka and went
into teaching at Uva College, Badulla where he met his wife, Monica, who was
also a teacher. After the death of their first born son, Vernon and Monica moved
to Colombo. He worked briefly for Car Mart and then joined Radio Ceylon as a
Relief Announcer in 1957. He took to radio and his career spiralled upwards.
Vernon soon established himself as one of the most popular announcers of Radio
Ceylon. He presented some of the most popular radio programmes in South Asia:
Two for the Money, Kiddies' Korner, Old Folks at Home, Maliban Band Wagon,
Dial-a-disc and many more.
Vernon was also instrumental in introducing
Sinhala music onto the English Service. Together with his cousins Sangabo Corea
and Vijaya Corea he made Clarence Wijewardene, Annesley Malawana and other
talented Sri Lankan musicians, household names. Vernon's career at the Sri Lanka
Broadcasting Corporation progressed up the management ladder as Business Manager
of the Corporation and in 1974 he was appointed Director News. Vernon also spent
six months in Britain on a scholarship with the Nuffield Foundation and received
training at the BBC.
The family moved to England in 1975 when
Vernon and Monica became the first Asian missionaries at the Worldwide
Evangelization Crusade founded by the all England cricketer C.T. Studd. They
worked for the radio arm of WEC, Radio Worldwide who were stationed in Upper
Norwood South East London at the time.
After a spell in religious broadcasting,
Vernon was invited to present the first ever Asian programme in English "London
Sounds Eastern" on BBC Radio London. The programme was successful and Vernon
interviewed Pandit Ravi Shankar and the President of Sri Lanka among the whole
host of distinguished personalities. "London Sounds Eastern" built up a huge
following and Vernon was reaching new audiences. In 1978, Vernon Corea was
appointed as the first Ethnic Minorities Advisor for the British Broadcasting
Corporation and held it until his retirement. The BBC were trying to be more
inclusive and Vernon brought with him a whole new picture within Britain's
multicultural mosaic. Vernon valued diversity and he certainly changed views at
the BBC. The introduction of the BBC's new Asian Network is largely due to the
pioneering work carried out by Vernon in the late 1970s and 1980s at the BBC.
Vernon was a committed Christian, his faith in God and the Lord Jesus Christ was
non-negotiable. He had a deep and abiding faith in Christ.
He has left a magnificent legacy to Sri
Lankan and British Broadcasting - with 45 years of service to public service
broadcasting. The London Times (8th October 2002) and the London Guardian
(October 15th) paid tribute to the pioneering work undertaken by Vernon Corea
who was dubbed, "The Golden Voice of Radio Ceylon".
With 520,000 autistic people in the UK and
30,000 in Sri Lanka, Vernon supported the Autism Awareness Year campaign
launched by his son and daughter-in-law.
He leaves behind his wife Monica, his children Ivan, Vernon and Ouida. He was the father-in-law of Charika, Fidelma and Praveen and he adored his grandchildren - Charin, Rohan, Mark, Emily, Rebecca, Jeremy and Rachel.
Baron De Livera
VERNON COREA THE GOLDEN VOICE
OF RADIO CEYLON
Vernon Corea, Sri Lanka's pioneering broadcaster, died on September 23rd, 2002 aged 75 years. Vernon lived in New Malden in Surrey. The previous night,on Sunday 22nd September, he watched BBC News 24 and went to bed. In the morning he had passed away in his sleep. It was a peaceful departure from this world.
Vernon was born in Kurana, Katunayke on September 11th, 1927. His father Rev. Ivan Corea was a curate at the Anglican Church in Kurana in 1927. The Corea family are descendants of Dominicus Corea who was crowned King of Kotte in the 16th century. Vernon's parents were the late Canon Ivan Corea and Ouida Corea, one time Rural Dean of Colombo of the Church of Sri Lanka and Vicar of St. Lukes Church, Borella. In the late 1950s Canon Corea was appointed Vicar of St.Paul's Milagiriya.
Vernon was educated at Royal College, Colombo where he played a full role in the life of the school - from debating society to playing tennis. He was also educated at Bishop's Theological College in Calcutta, India but decided not to pursue ordination.
Vernon Corea returned to Sri Lanka and went into teaching at Uva College, Badulla where he met his wife, Monica, who was also a teacher. After the death of their first born son Harishchandra, Vernon and Monica moved to Colombo. He worked briefly for Car Mart and then joined Radio Ceylon as a Relief Announcer in 1956.
Vernon was appointed as an Announcer in Radio Ceylon in 1957 by the Director of the Commercial Service, Clifford R.Dodd. Vernon had the joined the 'greats' - Livy Wijemanne, Tim Horshington, Greg Roskowski, Jimmy Barucha, Mil Sansoni, Eardley Peiris,Shirley Perera, Bob Harvie, Chris Greet, Prosper Fernando,Ameen Sayani (of Binaca Geet Mala fame), S.P. Mylvaganam (the first Tamil Announcer on the Commercial Service) to name a few, who blazed a trail in broadcasting in South Asia. Vernon also worked with the legendary Karunaratne Abeyeysekera, they were very close friends.
People from all over the Indian sub-continent stayed awake into the wee hours of the morning to listen to the announcers from Radio Ceylon. Fan mail flooded from all over South Asia. Radio ruled the airwaves in the 1950s and 1960s. Television hadn't even arrived in Ceylon. Announcers like Vernon were the pioneers of public service broadcasting in Ceylon.
Vernon took to radio like a duck takes to water and his career spiralled upwards. He soon established himself as a popular Announcer of Radio Ceylon. Everyone is South Asia loved Radio.
Announcers were the 'pop stars' of that generation and Radio Ceylon occupied a very special place in the hearts of South Asians in India, West Pakistan, East Pakistan, Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and there were listeners even in Burma. Salman Rushdie mentions Radio Ceylon in his novel 'Shame.' People in India remember the radio station with such affection.
' No amount of criticism could diminish the popularity of Radio Ceylon to the public taste but also cultivated the same it offered not only what people liked but also what they should have liked...'
' Radio Ceylon still boasts of possessing the largest library of 78 RPM records. They are preserved in an air-conditioned room, lovingly handled and safely played on a heavy turn-table with an Australian made diamond stylus.'
PLAYBACK & FAST FORWARD MAGAZINE, INDIA
Vernon presented some of the most popular radio programmes in South Asia: Two for the Money, Kiddies Korner, Old Folks at Home, To Each His Own, Ponds Hit Parade, Saturday Stars, Take it or Leave It, Maliban Bandwagon (Maliban Show), Dial-a-disc and many more. Vernon was also a sought after compere of countless dinners, dances, events and he was at the helm of many a New Year celebration and his voice greeted listeners with a cheerful 'Happy New Year,' in the 1960s and 1970s. He was called upon to present the first ever experimental television broadcast from Colombo. These were the first tentative steps into the world of television.
Livy Wijemanne, the veteran broadcaster(who joined Radio Ceylon in 1945) was Assistant Director of the Commercial Service, it was Livy who appointed Vernon as a relief announcer - writing on 9th August 1956, Livy Wijemanne noted: ' Mr. Vernon Corea has had intensive daily training under the supervision of Mr.Goonesena, and is now fit to go on his own as a relief announcer. I shall, therefore, be glad if you will approve of my employing him as a relief announcer on the Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon with immediate effect...'
The legendary Director of the Commercial Service, Clifford R.Dodd wrote to Vernon on 17th September 1957 to inform him that he had been 'placed on the panel of Relief Announcers in English on the Commercial Service with effect from September 1st, 1957.' This was the beginning of Vernon's amazing career in broadcasting in Ceylon. Vernon was paid the princely sum of Rs 1/75 per hour, subject to a maximum of Rs. 12 per day.
He started his career in radio at the bottom of the ladder but he soon climbed up - Vernon was appointed Announcer from 1958-1959, Programme Assistant from 1959-1968, Business Manager from 1968-1974 and he was appointed Director News of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation in 1974. Vernon spent six months in England from 29th April 1970 following a course of training in Broadcasting Management under the Imperial Relations Trust at the British Broadcasting Corporation.
He was instrumental in introducing Sinhala music into the English Service. Together with his cousins, Sangabo Corea and Vijaya Corea he made Clarence Wijewardene, Annesley Malawana and other talented Sri Lankan musicians, household names. He had an influential EMCEE column in the Daily News in the 1960s and 1970s and many musicians went to see Vernon, in order to publicise their group. It was a huge plus to be featured in the EMCEE column of the Daily News. Vernon has also mentored the great radio names of today, including his cousin Vijaya and Nihal Bhareti.
The family moved to England in 1975 when Vernon and Monica became the first Asian missionaries at the Worldwide Evangelization Crusade founded by the all England cricketer C. T. Studd. They worked for the radio arm of WEC, Radio Worldwide who were stationed in Upper Norwood South East London at the time.
After a spell in religious broadcasting Vernon was invited to present the first ever Asian programme in English. "London Sounds Eastern" on BBC Radio London. Vernon's record selection included Sri Lankan hit makers - Clarence Wijeywardene, Annesley Malawana, Dharmaratne Brothers, La Ceylonians, Indrani Perera, The Gypsies, Dalrene, Sam The Man, Mignone Fernando and the Jetliners, Desmond de Silva , Nimal Mendis and many more - they were reaching the heart of London through the airwaves. Many of these musicians were featured on Vernon's radio programs at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.
This was certainly a first for the Sri Lankan Community in the UK and other Asian Communities. Vernon paved the way for radio programs in English involving Asian culture, Asian music and personalities.
The programme was very successful and Vernon interviewed Pandit Ravi Shankar, Asha Bhosle, Usha Uthup, Lata Mangeshkhar, the President of Sri Lanka among a whole host of distinguished personalities. "London Sounds Eastern" built up a huge following and Vernon was reaching new audiences across the capital, he was even featured on the pages of the BBC Radio Times along with Alex Pascall. Vernon was supported by key BBC producers like Keith Yeomans during this time - they were working with a very talented man from Sri Lanka.
Vernon covered the Royal Wedding of His Royal Highness Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer for the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and he voiced news reports onthe visits of President J.R.Jayewardene and Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa to the UK. He was invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Prince of Wales who has a special interest in Asian culture.
Vernon took up the post of Asian Programmes Officer at the BBC, he was in the forefront of training people from the minoritiy ethnic communities - this was a first for the BBC in terms of Local Radio. He was the first Sri Lankan to be appointed to senior management at the BBC.
In 1978, Vernon Corea was appointed as the first Ethnic Minorities Adviser for the British Broadcasting Corporation and held it until his retirement. The BBC were trying to be more inclusive and Vernon brought with him a whole new picture within Britian's multicultural mosaic. Vernon valued diversity and he certainly changed views at the BBC.
His appointment to the BBC was heralded by the 'Thunderer' the London Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times in the United Kingdom.
The introduction of the BBC's new Asian Network is largely due to the pioneering work carried out by Vernon - in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Vernon was a committed Christian, his faith in God and the Lord Jesus Christ was non-negotiable. He had a deep and abiding faith in Christ. The joy of the Lord was Vernon's strength.
He was a man who was not depressed or down and he attributed his state of well-being to Jesus Christ. He used to always tell his children, 'take it to the Lord.' Vernon was a Lay Reader at Christ Church in Gipsy Hill, South East London and also at Emmanuel Church in Wimbledon Village in South West London.
Vernon has left a magnificent legacy to Sri Lankan and British Broadcasting with 45 years of service to public service broadcasting. The London Times (8th October 2002) and the London Guardian (October 15th) paid tribute to the pioneering work undertaken by Vernon Corea who has dubbed. "The Golden Voice of Radio Ceylon".
With 520,000 autistic people in the UK and 30,000 in Sri Lanka, Vernon supported the Autism Awareness Year campaign launched by his son and daughter-in-law.
He leaves his wife Monica, his children Ivan, Vernon and Ouida. He was the father-in-law of Charika, Fidelma and Praveen and he adored his grandchildren Charin, Rohan, Mark, Emily, Rebecca, Jeremy and Rachel. His granchildren had a very special nickname for him, they all called him 'Ga-Ga,' Vernon loved it and he linked it to Freddie Mercury and Queen's hit song ,'Radio Ga Ga,' it became Vernon's theme song in the family and he loved it.
Even when he was in Sri Lanka, Vernon was very much a family man. His children recall the simple pleasures of life, visits to the Savoy, the Liberty, the Majestic, the Rio to see great movies like the Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Hatari....hot dogs at the Fountain Cafe....The Royal-Thomian cricket match....a stroll down Galle Face Green...a wonderful meal at the Chinese Lotus Hotel in Colombo.
He will be missed by so many - Vernon was an accomplished jazz pianist - he played by ear - on one occasion, Vernon was asked to play some of the old songs by Dudley Senanayake, the Prime Minister of Ceylon. Members of Dudley Senanayake's Cabinet, including J.R.Jayewardene and Shirley Corea, gathered around Vernon, at a party, in a flat in Galle Face Court, in Colombo - singing all the old favourites.
Duke Ellington, the great Jazz pianist visited Ceylon in the 1960s, he was whisked to the studios of Radio Ceylon for a recording and he met Vernon (who had taken along his sons to meet the great man).
Vernon was deeply loyal to the employees of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. On one occasion an employee could not afford to hire a music group for his wedding. So Vernon gathered together some friends who were musicians and members of his family and they played a six hour session at the wedding - the guests danced to 'Blue Moon' and other songs of yesteryear.
' In many respects Vernon represented a dying culture. In the best sense of the term he was essentially a Public School boy, a typical product of Royal College of the pre-56 vintage.
His sense of loyalty to his management and to his profession and his compassion and concern for those who worked under him were exemplary. I recall many instances when he would intercede on behalf some hapless subordinate who had fallen foul of the management without ever flinching from his loyalty to the latter.
He typified the moral qualities of his schooling, viz. integrity, loyalty and professional excellence. There were certain things which he considered as simply "not done" and which he was incapable of doing. He was incapable of disloyalty to the traditions of his school, of disloyalty to his superiors or of disloyalty towards his subordinates and it was the special quality of his personality that he managed to balance these contradictory impulses with consummate ease and humour...'
former Director-General, Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation
He loved music, whether it was playing the piano, the melodica or the violin - there was music in his house - in Maha Nuge Gardens. Vernon and his brother Ernest always provided the entertainment - there was laughter, songs, jokes in the Corea household. They were very special times for the family in Colombo.
Vernon added to the 'sense of community' down Maha Nuge Gardens in Kollupitiya - with the Bandaranaikes,the Dias-Abeysinghes, the Illangakons, the Wickremesinghes, the Tennekoons - this was Sri Lankan life at its best - visiting each others houses, Vernon always had the 'open door system.' There were hugely interesting personalities like Sammy Dias-Bandaranaike who spent long hours with Vernon explaining Cheiro's book of numbers - then there was 'Achchi Mummy' also related to the Bandaranaike family - they used to laugh at Vernon's jokes and his stories. Maha Nuge Gardens was a vibrant community.
There were so many who turned up to see Vernon, people from all over the world international broadcasters from the West Indies, India, Australia, Great Britain, USA. Michael Broadbent an Editor of BBC TV News came for a few days and ended up staying for a few weeks as the JVP launched their uprising in April 1971. Living in Maha Nuge Gardens was an education in itself.
Vernon's brother, Ernest, was Sri Lanka's former Ambassador to the United States of America and one time Editor of the Daily News, one of the oldest newspapers in Sri Lanka. The Corea brothers held sway in print and radio reaching the top in the media. They were both very influential at the time.
One of Vernon's last public engagements in 2002 was a visit to the House of Commons in the Palace of Westminster to meet the Sri Lankan cricket team led by Captain Sanath Jayasuriya. Also present were the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom John Major (a cricket fanatic), Lord Naseby and other members of parliament.
This visit was made possible by two ex-Royalists, Dr.Daya Panditha-Gunewardena(Chairman of the BCCSL UK) and former Royal Captain Asitha Jayaweera (Vernon interviewed him back in the days of Radio Ceylon) . Vernon was touched by the courtesy extended to him by Sri Lankan cricketers like Mahela Jayewardene who came up and spoke to him. There he was on the terrace facing the Thames, recalling the old stories and stating' 'I knew your family,' to Sri Lanka Manager Dav Whatmore - he was in his element.
Vernon Corea may have passed away but his legacy lives on - people he has mentored in the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and at the British Broadcasting Corporation have gone on to work in press, radio and television - all over the world. His BBC colleagues remember Vernon's jokes and stories, a colleague noted that Vernon was 'one of the greatest storytellers of the Corporation!'
When Vernon retired from the BBC, a colleague wrote:
'My warmest thanks to you for so ably pioneering a difficult field for us. There's no doubt that ethnic minority - multi-cultural broadcasting is in a stronger position than when you began. The BBC is proud of you! And thanks, too, for all your friendly advice of such diversity over the years....'
This tribute is on the website for Vernon Corea The Golden Voice of Radio Ceylon on http://ivan_corea.tripod.com/vernoncorea. The tribute also appears on the TOP 100 BROADCASTERS FROM SRI LANKA and the TOP 100 SOUTH ASIAN BROADCASTERS OF ALL TIME - these two international websites can be accessed from the tribute site to Vernon Corea
Sir Cliff Richard and Radio Ceylon (SLBC)
(Colombo) The British pop icon, 66 year old Sir Cliff Richard ended the Sri
Lankan leg of his ‘Here and Now Tour’ with a sell out concert in Colombo,
capital of Sri Lanka. The pop star has left Sri Lanka for the Maldives on
Monday 26th February.
Cliff Richard began the South East Asian leg of his ‘Here and Now’ tour in
Hong Kong, and has had massive sell out concerts in Malaysia, Singapore,
Philippines, Japan and a stunning performance in Sri Lanka. The star will
the South African and European parts of the tour which will take him to more
than ten cities by the end of March 2007.
Cliff Richard who burst into the world of popular music with his first
British rock n’ roll number one hit in 1958 has proved a real favourite with
fans right across South Asia and this goes back to the 1950s.
The legendary Radio Ceylon broadcaster Vernon Corea and other Radio Ceylon
announcers made Cliff Richard a household name - right across the Indian
from his very first hit ‘Move It’ in 1958. Radio Ceylon played his hits from
1958 and his music reached a whole new audience in South Asia. Thousands of
Indian listeners used to write in to Radio Ceylon requesting Cliff’s songs.
Radio Ceylon had no other rival, in terms of radio listenership in South
Asia in the 1950s and 1960s.
According to news reports from Colombo, Vernon Corea was one of those
presenters who promoted Cliff Richard’s music on Radio Ceylon from 1958. He
became the BBC’s Ethnic Minorities Adviser in the 1970s.
There are references to Sir Cliff Richard on two blogs written in memory of
the pioneering Radio Ceylon broadcaster. Vernon Corea, the BBC Radio London
presenter died in 2002.