Vernon Corea, who died on 22 September 2002 aged 75, was a pioneering Sri Lankan broadcaster who worked for BBC radio as well as South Asia’s oldest station, Radio Ceylon.
Described as a ‘live-wire’ within his profession, Mr Corea enjoyed promoting Sri Lankan music and culture to audiences worldwide. He also introduced popular British and American musicians over the Asian airwaves including Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard.
Mr Corea began his broadcasting career in the 1950s, sharing his knowledge and experience as a presenter on some of the most popular radio shows in South Asia. He later worked as a presenter in Britain hosting BBC Radio London’s breakthrough show, London Sounds Eastern.
An integral part of his success was his ability to bring wit and humour to his broadcasts. His personality inspired others to train as broadcasters and his migration to the UK in 1975 was seen as a great loss to South Asia.
Vernon Corea was born on 11 September, 1927, in Kurana, Katunayake in Ceylon Sri Lanka. The son of an Anglican vicar, his father sent him to a college in Calcutta to study theology, in the hope of being persuaded to enter the priesthood.
His studies in theology failed to leave a lasting impression and on his return to Ceylon, he concentrated on establishing a career in broadcasting.
In 1956, Mr Corea began training as a Relief Announcer on the commercial service of Radio Ceylon under the watchful eye of Clifford Dodd, the founder of the network.
Mr Corea soon became a highly influential figure in both radio and print journalism writing a popular entertainment column for the Ceylon Daily News.
Having created a legacy at Radio Ceylon he rose to become Director of News at the Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation in 1974. He left his role as Director of News in 1975 moving with his family to the UK.
Finding work as a broadcaster in London, he secured a role as a radio presenter on the first Asian programme in English.
London Sounds Eastern on BBC Radio London became one of the most popular BBC shows amongst ethnic minorities and Mr Corea’s association with the show ensured further work at the corporation.
In 1978, he was employed as the BBC’s first ethnic minorities’ adviser helping to build a platform of ethnic focussed programming within regional radio. His accomplishments attributed to Britain becoming a more diverse culture.
Former Director General Greg Dyke summed up Mr Corea’s influence at the BBC. “He was a pioneering influence in the BBC and helped to lay the foundation for the work we are continuing to do to make sure our staff and our programmes are truly representative of our nation’s diverse population.
“We remember with gratitude and pride his launching of London Sounds Eastern on BBC Radio London, and his generosity in mentoring and training people from ethnic minority backgrounds for the BBC.”
A combination of hard work and determination resulted in him becoming “a perfectionist in every aspect of broadcasting, knowledgeable, flamboyant and outspoken in any situation.”
Remembered as “The Golden Voice of Radio Ceylon,” Mr Corea passed away in his sleep at his Surrey home.