Features – published in the Daily News, Sri Lanka
A tribute to the late Vernon Corea
K S Sivakumaran
The Coreas from Chilaw are famous people in Lanka and some of them have been known international figures. A few names that strike the mind are the late Dr Gamini Corea, Ernest Corea and Vernon Corea.
Two dates in September are remembered, particularly by radio listeners all over the world. September 11, 1927 and September 23, 2014.
The legendary broadcaster in the heydays of the then Radio Ceylon, the late Vernon Corea’s birth date and the date of passing away of this Golden Voice of this colourful personality are to be remembered. He would have been 87 years next Tuesday, September 23, 2014. It was a sad day in September, 2002, when he left this planet to merge with the Almighty.
There is ample information available on the Internet and the links like Radio Ceylon on the very talented and one of the pioneer broadcasters in Lanka – Vernon Corea. The building up of the then Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon in the 1950s and up to the 70s and 80s laid in the hands of the Australian Clifford Dodd, Tim Horshington, Livy Wijemanne, Vernon Corea, Greg Roskowski, Jimmy Bharucha and the other unforgettable announcers in English. My tribute to my friend Vernon Corea on his death anniversary is only on a personal note.
Young, dynamic and vibrant, the voice of the inimitable Vernon was heard to adorn the airwaves through the only electronic medium in this country at that time – the Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon. Little did he know then that he would climax his career as Director General of the same radio station which later became the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. He worked for the BBC too when he settled down in England at his retirement.
Instead of repeating all what his fans know about him, I wish to recall my experiences in associating with him.
When I was 17 or 18, I had listened to his voice on the air waves of the Commercial Service but was hoping to meet him one day. That day came when I was asked to come over to the station to collect my voucher which I won in a quiz programme called ‘Take it or Leave it’. The programme was a live broadcast from Studio Six in Radio Ceylon. The quiz master was Geoff Frugtneath and the announcer was Jimmy Bharucha. They were holding forth on the stage. I could not spot Vernon even when he was in the studio, because I had not seen his face anywhere.
However, after a few days when I went to collect my voucher I was directed to the desk of a smiling short and stout man seated there and cracking jokes while others around him were merrily laughing and enjoying.
As I approached him, he smilingly asked me “Yes, young man how can I help you?” The willingness to help even a stanger was his nature.
“Sir, my name is Sivakumaran.” I introduced myself and gave him that letter which said to collect the voucher.
“Oh, you are the person I was waiting for. All other winners have taken their vouchers. Sit down”. I innocently asked him his name.
I stood up and expressed my delight in meeting him face o face. He had no accent in speech. His fluency in English interspersed with humour and the compassion won the hearts of many listeners.
Two other remembrances of him should be made. In 1966, a group of five people, including me, were selected as Relief Tamil Announcers for Commercial Service. Before the training period, he was assigned to brief us on broadcasting ethics. He even asked us to write a commercial of 50 words and saw us reading them out for him. Thus I became friendly with him.
The third happy closeness with him was when I worked as a permanent employee in the News Room of the then Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation, which name was later changed to SLBC and currently called Radio Sri Lanka. For a short spell, Vernon Corea was looking after the News Divisions as well. There he encouraged me in my tasks and gave me several assignments to do.
The late Vernon Corea had had an indelible influence in me in the broadcasting field. I have not met his son Ivan so far but in touch with him when he started a link Radio Ceylon in the web. But recently I had the pleasure of meeting his daughter Ouida and her family in Colombo. Vernon Corea’s photograph, belatedly though, adorns the gallery of famous administrators of Radio Ceylon.