Des Kelly and Bill Forbes on Vernon Corea

Desmond Kelly

Des Kelly, now in Australia and Bill Forbes in the United Kingdom were both top Sri Lanka-born stars who achieved fame and stardom in the world of popular music. Both released hit after hit – Vernon played them all in the 1950s and 1960s in the studios of his beloved Radio Ceylon.

Des Kelly and Bill Forbes pay tribute to the ‘master broadcaster….’


The Master Broadcaster

By Des Kelly

It is a rare privilege indeed to be called upon to put pen to paper with regard to a man who was revered in the field of broadcasting in “my lovely island home”. Sadly, I was not aware of his passing in 2002 as I was battling cancer during the same year and had to have my left kidney removed leaving me with only the right one – to which I am very attached.As I read of his many achievements throughout his illustrious career both in Sri Lanka and abroad, I am truly amazed by the various fields of accomplishment that he has taken in his stride without as much as a backward step but then, this was Vernon Corea as I knew him, not overly large in stature but truly a giant, indefectible as an intellectual with the added bonus of sound common-sense.

Well do I remember the magnificent studios of old Radio Ceylon with the heavily panelled sound-proofed doors, the well appointed interiors, the huge radio-microphones on their steel booms, the little red lights on the outside of each door flashing “on” to tell us that a broadcast was in progress and entry was not permitted. I still remember, very vividly, the office where, many times, Vernon interviewed me, giving me the invaluable advice that was needed before one actually went on air. He was a teacher and mentor extraordinaire and to this day, I feel quite comfortable being a part of a radio broadcast. Vernon Corea will always be fondly remembered by his colleagues and friends as a man who gave freely of his time to aspiring “artistes” and other radio personalities alike. I remember Chris Greet praising Vernon “to the skies” as he drove me to Radio Ceylon to do the first of my “Spot-Light” appearances. Chris Greet was a radio personality in his own right but, Vernon was always the “Top Man”, he used to tell me and although, at the time, there were many famous names in the broadcasting business in the 1950’s, Vernon’s dulcet tones on air were hard to match.

There has to be something very special about the name “Vernon” and also “Royal College”. Another famous “Royalist”, Vernon Abeysekera passed on into God’s “studio in Heaven” only last year. The latter Vernon was also very much into Radio and ended up as Director of Broadcasting in the S.L.B.C. I am very proud and felt privileged that both “Vernon’s” were good friends of mine. I will sum up by saying that there were three men who were all ex Royal College and who stood out to me as “The Gentleman’s Gentlemen”: Vernon Corea, Vernon Abeysekera and my own Dad who, although his name was Carl also boasted the “Royal” name. “Valé” to three gentlemen I knew and respected so much. Your respective moulds were smashed the moment you closed your eyes for the last time. God bless you. R.I.P.


Bill Forbes spiralled upwards to stardom when he appeared on Jack Good’s ‘Oh Boy,’ a groundbreaking British pop music show from 1958-1959, in London with Cliff Richard, Marty Wilde, Bill Fury and others. He released 12 hits for EMI Columbia among them ‘Too Young/It’s Not the End of the World,’ Sri Lankans still sing his ‘baila hit’ ‘Aacha England,’ recorded under the name of Kal Khan. ‘Oh to be in England!’ was a favourite of Vernon’s.

Bill Forbes met Vernon Corea in the early 1960s at Radio Ceylon. Forbes was mobbed by the Ceylonese and even had lunch with the Prime Minister of Ceylon at his residence, ‘Temple Trees’ in Colombo. Bill Forbes was very popular in Ceylon.

Bill travelled to Ceylon after his outstanding success in ‘Oh Boy’ Vernon was one of the first to interview him and play his hits on Radio Ceylon.Vernon also wrote about Bill Forbes in his Entertainment columns published in the Ceylon Daily News. Bill Forbes also appeared on Donovan Andree’s musical shows in Colombo in the early 1960s. He shares his memories….

‘ Friendly Vernon spun my discs together with Livy Wijemanne, Jimmy Barucha, Chris Greet, Nimal Mendis & Co – and I sincerely thank him and the others for their kindness.

It was lovely to read about Vernon’s achievements and his GOLDEN VOICE will always be remembered when Radio Ceylon is mentioned. His legacy will live on. My brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka all have a special set of good words for him.

May Vernon’s efforts in life musical and otherwise be remembered dearly…..’


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