|Tuesday, 28 September 2004|
The second death anniversary of broadcaster, Vernon Corea, fell on September 23. The Hindu newspaper recently place Corea among the top five great broadcasters of the world alongside fellow Radio Ceylon presenter Ameen Sayani of Binaca Geet Mala fame.
Corea joined Radio Ceylon in 1956 and left the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation as Director News in 1975. He was the first Sri Lankan ever to be appointed to senior management at the BBC as Ethnic Minorities adviser.
Corea's contribution to broadcasting in the UK through his popular London Sounds Eastern on BBC Radio London is immense.
Corea was invited to present the first ever Asian radio program in English on BBC Local Radio - in 1977 - this was a first for the British Broadcasting Corporation.
In the past, Asian programs were in Hindi or Urdu and other Asian languages - Corea pioneered the way when his voice hit the airwaves on BBC Radio London with his radio program, London Sounds Eastern Corea was once again at his best, in front of a microphone - this time at the British Broadcasting Corporation.
British journalist Richard Bath, writing about London Sounds Eastern said: "the program aimed at attracting not just an immigrant audience, but also at improving integration and community relations".
London Sounds Eastern built up a huge audience in the capital. Corea was on top of the world introducing ragas from India, music from Sri Lanka, Singapore, Pakistan - it was diverse, exciting and entertaining. London Sounds Eastern was produced by BBC man, Keith Yeomans.
The Station Manager of BBC Radio London, Alan Holden backed Corea's efforts. London Sound Eastern became a very popular program with Londoners reaching a whole new audience.
Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandith Amaradeva, Lata Mangeshkhar, Asha Bhosle, Usha Uthup, Clarence Wijeywardene, Annesly Malawana, Nimal Mendis, Mignonne Fernando and The Jetliners, Eranga and Priyanage, journalist and author Reginald Massey and his actress wife Jamila Massey of Mind Your Language fame were among those featured on London Sounds Eastern.
Corea had featured the Sri Lankan artistes way back in the 1950s and 1960s. The Sri Lankan international superstar Nimal Mendis - who even appeared with Sandra Edema in the 1960s on Top of the Pops was 'discovered' by Radio Ceylon in the 1950s.
Here was Corea featuring Mendis on BBC Radio London 20 years later. Many of these artistes remained close friends with Corea. Husha Uthup was a frequent visitor to Vernon's BBC office at the Langham, opposite Broadcasting House in London, whenever she was in London 'in concert' - she even used to sing Sri Lankan baila in Corea's office - because she knew the people of Sri Lanka so well. Mendis was a close friend too.
Superstars Clarence Wijeywardene and Annesly Malawana always mentioned Corea in their concerts in London. Corea was the first to write about them in the 1960s in his EMCEE column in the Ceylon Daily News.
BBC's Radio Times had a special focus on the program and Corea was featured in the BBC Radio Times for the first time in 1976. The program ran for an hour every week on a Sunday evening.
Corea told newsmen in London: I want the program to be very open and develop in style as time goes on. But I am also interested in the positive aspects of Asian family life and other Asian qualities, although overall, my style is very informal.
As a result of the radio program and the work done by Corea he was appointed Asian Programs Officer for BBC Local Radio. The BBC recognised Corea's talents and his exceptional qualities.
He retired from the BBC as an Ethnic Minorities Adviser. Corea's radio career had turned full circle. It was a fitting end to one of Sri Lanka's outstanding broadcasters.
Produced by Lake House