Remembering Sri Lanka's Legendary Broadcaster - Vernon Corea

Published: Sun Sep 18 2005

The 3rd death anniversary of legendary Radio Ceylon/SLBC and BBC broadcaster, Vernon Corea falls on the 23rd of September. Vernon who has lived in Wimbledon and New Malden, was Lay Reader at Emmanuel Church in Wimbledon Village. He was the BBC's Ethnic Minorities Adviser - The Hindu Newspaper in India placed him in the top 5 broadcasters of the world. The island of Sri Lanka - the birthplace of Vernon Corea will also remember this pioneering broadcaster from South Asia who presented the popular 'London Sounds Eastern' radio program on BBC Radio London in the 1970s and 1980s.

Neville Jayaweera, former Chairman and Director-General of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation pays a tribute to Vernon Corea:

'I first heard of Vernon Corea, as many others too did, before I had ever met him face to face. In the early nineteen sixties Vernon was probably the most popular male voice heard over Radio Ceylon's English Commercial Service. It was Vernon who compiled and presented that incredibly popular listener's request programme every Sunday afternoon, called "To each his own" for over a decade. This was the programme that served as a channel through which popular American music, particularly "Country and Western" songs poured into Sri Lanka and fashioned the musical tastes and values of a whole youth generation.
I actually met Vernon for the first time when I assumed duties as the Director General of the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation in 1966. Throughout my stay at Radio Ceylon Vernon worked very closely with the management and his loyalty and commitment to his responsibilities was never in doubt. Starting as an announcer and presenter he rose rapidly to exercise higher managerial responsibilities.

At any time, life at Radio Ceylon is turbulent for managers. The tension between artists on the one hand, who instinctively want to be a law unto themselves and habitually resist discipline and on the other, managers who are bound to maintain a framework of good management, is always intense. It was to Vernon's great credit that he served in both roles, as a professional broadcaster as well as, as a manager, without compromising either role.

Certain personality traits helped him to maintain this difficult balance. He had an extraordinary sense of humour and a capacity to see the funny side in every situation. Whenever a situation threatened to boil over Vernon had the happy knack of deflating the tension with some funny comment which would make everyone laugh. In fact at one time one wondered whether he took anything so seriously as to be beyond joking.

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.

When the culture of Sri Lanka as a whole and the culture of Radio Ceylon in particular changed dramatically post 1970, Vernon was rapidly reduced to the plight of a dinosaur, completely out of place and unable to survive in the harsh new environment. So it was that from about 1973 Vernon started seeking new pastures abroad. I had myself moved to London by then and I recall Vernon wrote inquiring whether I would recommend him for a post in Radio Worldwide in England and sponsor his work permit which I did most readily. So it was that Vernon, Monica and their three children moved to England about 1975.

Vernon went on to distinguish himself at Radio Worldwide and within a few years was invited by the BBC to head their new, " Ethnic Minorities Unit" where he worked till retirement with great distinction.

No tribute to Vernon Corea can be complete without a reference to his religious convictions. The eldest son of the Rev Ivan Corea and brother of Ernest Corea, who was one time Editor of the Daily news and later Ambassador to Washington, Vernon was a man of deep religious convictions. It will be correct to say that in addressing whatever task that confronted him Vernon's first impulse was to turn to God. He seemed to look on every circumstance as, in some rationally unexplainable way, as God's inexorable will for him. In a sense this was the source of his strength, the strength that enabled him to weather circumstances that would normally have crushed others. His faith in Jesus Christ was non-negotiable and indestructible.....'

Two tribute sites have been launched to remember the legendary broadcaster, and
Contact Name: Asia Radio News
Contact Email: