Vernon Corea and the Maliban Show of the 1960s on Radio Ceylon

The Maliban Show also known as the Maliban Bandwagon and the Maliban Talent Contest was the X Factor of its day. The X Factor was devised by Simon Cowell and is watched by millions  of viewers in the United Kingdom. The Maliban Show was listened to by millions of viewers in South Asia over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon – the number one radio station in the 1960s in the region. Like the X Factor in the UK the Maliban Show was a pioneering talent contest – seeking the very best of talent on the island of Ceylon. Long before Simon Cowell and X Factor, Radio Ceylon had discovered the successful talent show format – for radio.

Vernon Corea at Radio Ceylon.

The Maliban Show was one of the top entertainment radio programmes in South Asia in the 1960s. The programme was presented and produced by Vernon Corea. He lifted the show up the dizzy heights of popularity in the region – it attracted a loyal following of listeners and Radio Ceylon discovered so many new stars like Simon Cowell’s X Factor in the United Kingdom. Just as Cowell takes the X Factor auditions to London, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast, the Maliban Show went to Colombo,  Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Galle and others parts of Sri Lanka. One of Vernon’s gimmicks was to throw small packets of Maliban biscuits to the audience and he threw them at all the venues – in the studio of Radio Ceylon, in the Methodist College Scott Hall in Kollupitiya and elsewhere. The crowds loved it and there was a real buzz in the venues where the recordings took place.

Maliban biscuits - The Maliban Show on Radio Ceylon in the 1960s helped push the brand sky high.

The Maliban Show was such a pioneering entertainment radio programme it helped promote the Maliban biscuit brand not only on the island of Ceylon in the 1960s but also across South Asia.

Here is a history of Maliban biscuits from the company’s website –

From a humble tea shop to one of Sri Lanka’s most recognised brands, Maliban has come a long way in just over fifty years. As difficult as it may be to believe, the epitome of Sri Lankan biscuits started off as a simple tea kiosk on First Cross Street in Colombo Fort. In 1935, its proprietor, Mr. Angunugaha Gamage Hinni Appuhamy, who hailed from Akmeemana in the Galle District, opened the Maliban Hotel at No. 62 Maliban Street. He did not know at the time that it was Sri Lankan history in the making. A little over half a century later, we see his vision dominating the biscuit industry of the entire island.

With the help of his brothers Mr. A.G. Wickramapala and Mr. A.G. Jinadase, the young entrepreneur was able to boost the business, and within six months, the demand for Maliban biscuits outstripped manufacturing capacity.

The company thereafter decided to switch on to mechanised manufacturing, and on August 4th 1954 its first mass production facility was opened. By 1963 the demand had expanded so much that the factory was moved to a more spacious location at Ratmalana, where it resides to date.

The Maliban of today is headed by Chairman Mr. A. G. Ratnapala Samaraweera, son of Mr.  Hinni Appuhamy, and the torch bearer of the Maliban name. The true heirs of the Maliban tradition however, are all the Sri Lankans who have enjoyed the taste and quality that we have offered for decades and generations.

More than 30 companies compete for a market of 60,000 metric tonnes in Sri Lanka (Source: ACNielsen 2005). However, Maliban – together with its main competitor – accounts for nearly 90% of the biscuit market – one that has been growing at a steady pace over the years.

Maliban is one of Sri Lanka’s premier biscuit manufacturers, with a rich history of 50 years. What began as a simple tea-making operation has grown into a massive enterprise today, with a turnover of Rs. 5 billion. And a state-of-the-art production facility on a nine-hectare site at Ratmalana makes Maliban one of the largest biscuit-making units in South Asia. The company provides direct employment to 1,500 people and takes pride for having withstood the inexorable force of globalisation – a matter of national pride. Maliban is a truly Sri Lankan company with an inspiring vision that positions itself as a strong player in the global market.
Maliban biscuits reach every corner of the island, through an extensive distribution network. Its extensive product range – comprising Crackers, Savoury, Sweet and Assortments – caters to a wide variety of consumer segments; from the health conscious to regular biscuit lovers, and from kids to senior citizens.

Maliban became the first Sri Lankan company to export locally manufactured biscuits to the world as far back as in 1963. Since then, its biscuits were exported mainly to ethnic markets around the world. International marketing has gained momentum after the company restructured its export department in 2003 – a 20% growth in exports followed. Today, Maliban biscuits are directly exported to Canada, the US, the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, Australia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Maldives, Seychelles, India, Bangladesh and Ghana. It is now a truly global company with distribution channels in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia.

Certainly in the early days of the 1960s the Maliban Show helped bring the Maliban brand into the limelight in South Asia.