Vernon Corea pioneered so many radio programmes when he worked for Radio Ceylon. He was very much an ‘ideas man’ and both Clifford Dodd and Livy Wijemanne gave him room to let his ideas flow.
One successful idea was ‘Kiddies Corner,’ the children’s radio programme over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon. Vernon had met an 18 year old American volunteer of the Peace Corps in Colombo. There were several volunteers working in Ceylon. Vernon thought he was extremely talented and self-confident and asked Craig Thompson if he would present Kiddies Corner. So Craig Maama or Uncle Craig as he was known to Ceylonese children spent several years fronting the popular children’s programme.
Kiddies Corner was also the launch pad for the broadcasting career of Vernon’s cousin Vijaya Corea. It so happened that Vijaya was visiting his cousin in the 1960s – Vernon threw him into the deep end and asked him to present Kiddies Corner as a result Vijaya embarked on a career in broadcasting joining Radio Ceylon – in the 1980s he ended up as Director-General of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and has won many awards for broadcasting in Sri Lanka. It was fitting that Vijaya led the Memorial Service for Vernon Corea at St.Luke’s Church Borella in November 2002.
Kiddies Corner was produced by Vernon Corea. It became THE most popular children’s programme in English in South Asia. Some of the favourite songs of the young listeners were ‘Tikiri Tikiri Tikiri Liya,’ the popular children’s song in Sinhala, Gilly, Gilly, Ossenfeffer, Katzenellen Bogen by the Sea, sung by Max Bygraves, ‘A Little White Duck,’ by Burl Ives among them:
Kiddies Corner was a hugely popular children’s radio programme broadcast on the Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon. The format was devised in 1963. This was the ‘golden era’ of the radio station, the oldest in South Asia. Millions tuned into Radio Ceylon and it was known as the ‘King of the Airwaves’ in South Asia in the 1950s and 1960s.
The format of Kiddies Corner
Masterminding the children’s radio programme was the broadcaster Vernon Corea. The station co-opted a young American Peace Corps worker, Craig Thompson, to front the programme. The programme built up a huge following on the island and thousands of children tuned in to listen to ‘Uncle Craig,’ over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon—the programme had a mix of stories, plays, maths tables, children’s songs sung by a range of artistes such as Burl Ives, Danny Kaye and Max Bygraves together with children’s folk songs in Sinhala and Tamil. A huge favourite with Ceylonese and indeed children in South Asia was the song Gilly, Gilly, Ossenfeffer, Katzenellen Bogen by the Sea, sung by Max Bygraves – the song entered the British charts on September 10, 1954 and reached No 7. It was a real hit in the Indian sub-continent as Radio Ceylon played it on their All Asia Service as well as the Commercial Service in the 1950s and the 1960s.
Young Ceylonese Talent
The programme was a showcase for young Ceylonese talent and school orchestras were featured on ‘Kiddies Corner.’ Children were invited into the studio to participate in some of the radio plays on ‘Kiddies Corner.’
Craig Thompson was the first presenter of ‘Kiddies Corner’. Recalling the first ever recording of the children’s programme Thompson noted: ‘On the program, I was known as “Uncle Craig” or “Craig Maåma”…where I would join in and read stories, sing songs like “Gilly, Gilly Ossenfeffer, Katzen-Ellen-Bogen-By-the-Sea” “Tickery, Tickery Leea” and other fun activities. We even spent several weeks putting together a playlet called “The Necklace of Truth” …and had children participate in the various parts on the program. We recorded my first episode on Thursday, June 6, 1963 and our second episode on Friday, June 14, 1963. On Saturday, September 7, 1963, we began recording the children’s program at 12:30 p.m. for a new broadcast time of 4:15 p.m (instead of the usual 3:30). Parents had been writing saying that they would like us to come on the air at a later time so that “the whole family can listen.” As 3:30 seemed to be nap time for many children, they wanted us to change the time for everyone to listen.’