Cineworld Cinema - at the Empire Theatre

5 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7NA

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Showing 101 - 125 of 437 comments

davepring on June 30, 2015 at 3:28 am

Totally agree.The west end is very much over screened.With the opening of Picturehouse Central I think the likes of ODEON Panton St and Covent Garden will be casualties.The Vue Leicester Square is a shadow of its former self and only offers 2 decent sized screens.The Empire and Odeon Leicester Square are really the only event cinemas left.

Cjbx11 on June 29, 2015 at 4:58 pm

For me the problem for all the cinemas in Leicester Square is that there is now to many screens chasing to few product. I think they would all do better had they stayed single screens and changed their films on a weekly or fortnightly basis rather then giving very long runs of often very mediocre films. Had they done this I also believe it might have also been possible for the cinema opperaters to persuade the film distributors to let them have exclusive preview shows before going on genral realise similar to the days of exclusive west end runs but maybe just for a weekend before going on genral release. For the cinemas in Leicester Square to servive and be successful I really believe they have to offer the customer something they can’t get at their local cinema, but sadly a lot of the screens are not very good and the customer can get much better experience at their local multiplex for half the price.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on June 28, 2015 at 7:34 am

goodshow: I took a look at the Imperial War Museum website, and as you say, there are several war-time photos of cinemas. Thanks for the information.

davepring on June 28, 2015 at 6:27 am

There is no way that the Empire could stay as a single screen auditorium.It had been losing money for years.Although I lament its passing I am amazed it lasted so long.The Warner and Plaza were twinned in the late 60s early 70s.The Carlton was butchered and The Rialto and London Pavilion closed as cinemas. Todays audiences want bigger screens and immersive sound and The Empire now satisfies that demand in a high quality conversion but like most other posters I miss the Empire of the 1960s.

goodshow on June 25, 2015 at 11:32 am

Ken, the respective website is none other than the Imperial War Museum which has a huge collection of cinemas and impromptu cinema-going the world over during the First and Second World War years;the West End and the Home Counties especially kitted out with sandbags and featuring scores of servicemen and women.

If you can message me on here, I’ll direct you through the eccentric search facility so you can oversee any downloads in future-just in case we get accused of wanton theft and pillage by indiscriminate posting!

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on June 25, 2015 at 2:12 am

goodshow: What a great photograph of the left side stairs in the foyer of the original Empire Theatre. I have not seen this before. Great find!

terry on June 24, 2015 at 3:21 pm

If only, Empire_fan ! Nice thought anyway……..

Empire_fan on June 24, 2015 at 2:46 pm

We should get someone to take over empire and get it put back the way it was EMPIRE 1 and throw out all those other rubbish small screens into a skip!

goodshow on June 20, 2015 at 12:32 am

I am assuming this photo

is also of the Empire, Leicester Square. More subdued atmosphere due to wartime bombardment period.

davepring on June 19, 2015 at 2:03 am

the photo is similar but the festoons stage right and left were lower creating more of a horizontal line

CF100 on June 18, 2015 at 6:10 pm

davepring—I have a copy of the book to which you refer (the author is David High,) but not accessible to me at this time. I shall peruse it again when I have the chance!

Here’s a photo of the contour curtain in one position. Not sure I’ve seen any other photos from that era, is that one of the positions you recollect seeing?

davepring on June 18, 2015 at 5:36 am

The Leicester Street entrance originally led to the Pit Stalls of the Empire Theatre prior to the 1920s rebuild.

davepring on June 18, 2015 at 5:30 am

The first film I saw at the Empire was in 1970 which I think was Woodstock.The contour curtain was used at the beginning and end of each performance rising and falling in two different styles.I had a book many years ago detailing the history of the Empire from the 1880s to the 1980s which had a photo of plaster work remnants on the right hand side wall towards the projection booth..but my memory may be mistaken!

CF100 on June 17, 2015 at 6:16 pm

Hmm… looking at the various pictures I’m having quite a hard time identifying which parts of the ceiling could have survived the 1962 reconstruction; I’d guess the dome and associated structure would have been removed. According to this post, there was some remaining plasterwork behind the right side wall, and looking at plans, the most plausible location would be somewhere around the side exit near the stalls/circle gangway.

CF100 on June 16, 2015 at 4:39 pm

Dave Pring — Do you have any idea where fragments of the “Lamb” ceiling remained?

In the “laser show” era, my recollection is that the contour curtain was only ever dropped in an “inverse V” shaped pattern.

davepring on June 16, 2015 at 10:28 am

The interior of the Empire was indeed stripped back to the walls although some elements of the 1920s ceiling were still intact hidden behind George Coles design.In the 1970s the contour curtain would rise and fall in a combination of designs but this feature was abandoned by the 80s.

FanaticalAboutOdeon on June 15, 2015 at 2:46 pm

CF100 – The photographs do put several aspects of the 1962 conversion in context – I have all the pictures except the tea lounge but, where they are at the moment is another matter!

It was very common for large theatres built in the late 19th/early 20th centuries to have subterranean stalls and street level entrances situated roughly midway between stalls and first circle levels. The picture of the Empire’s dividing staircases do appear to suggest just such an arrangement and, given the enormous capacities on each level, this would make perfect sense. Unlike the smaller Odeon Theatre with a main foyer and circle lounge, the Empire appears to have had a stalls foyer and a circle foyer. As you say, the reconfiguration of these areas was extreme enough to make it almost impossible to imagine what went before.

The balcony side view shows the bulk of the seating to be behind the very forward cross-gangway with the most expensive seats in the house occupying a relatively shallow front section compared to the ratios in the majority of “conventional” cinemas and with Coles only using (presumably) the rearmost ten or eleven rows as his stadium’s circle, I’m led to believe the main girder would most likely have resided approximately beneath the original cross gangway immediately forward of the two vomitories. Quite a bit further forward beneath the new cinema’s “stalls” than I had previously thought. For the girder to have been behind the vomitories would have almost certainly compromised its value in maintaining the integrity of the cantilever’s longitudinal girders which were/are anchored in counterweights embedded in the Empire Theatre’s rear wall. This does suggest quite a void beneath the 1962 cinema and above the ballroom/casino but which may have been partly utilised to maximise the height of the ballroom – George Coles appears to have abhorred vacuums!
Like you, I think the old theatre must have been stripped back to its skeleton for such drastic changes to have been facilitated, leaving nothing whatsoever of its decorated inner shell.

Consideration was given to tripling the Odeon, Stockton towards the end of the ‘70s. It was apparently discussed alongside the planned disposal of the Majestic/Odeon, West Hartlepool and would, seemingly, have involved dividing the “circle” section in two, the two new cinemas being served by the original projection room while a new projection room would have been built on a small, new area above the centre part of the cross gangway. According to my former local assistant manager. who became the Odeon’s manager during its last years, this “new” box for the original screen would have stood on stilts and adjoined the front row of the “circle” which would have provided corridor access to the new box. It all sounded quite well worked out and optimistic but, once again, the surveyors decided the extra weight of the new box and dividing walls could not be safely tolerated. In the event, both West Hartlepool and Stockton cinemas closed on 24/10/81.

The loss of Empire One is symptomatic of cinema design shifting ever further away from its theatrical origins and towards little more than utilitarianism in which cinema fails to find a decent identity of its own. We don’t need proscenium arches, curtains or theatre lighting in order to show films but how conspicuous by their absence are such features when they take the atmosphere and sense of occasion with them, leaving sanitised and uninspiring black boxes with a naked screen at one end. Long live the, largely, independent cinemas where they still put on a decent show as well as showing a film.

I also remember the traditionally uniformed commisionaire who used to stand in the Empire’s entrance and, when necessary, was very efficient at controlling and directing queues.

CF100 on June 14, 2015 at 5:32 pm

FantaticalAboutOdeon—I did notice, on the occassions when the contour curtain was used in the “laser show” era, the machinery sounded rather “clunky”—albeit this may not have been any indication as to its condition.

Talking of the 90’s, I recall right up until the late 90’s, there was a older gentleman who always seemed to be positioned at the bottom of the vestibule, and if I remember correctly—although it is a vague memory now—he still wore an old Empire staff uniform. I can only assume he had been working there for decades!

I see there have been a couple of pictures of the “Lamb” Empire uploaded by Ken Roe recently to CT, this one ppears to show sets of steps up to the circle level and steps down to the stalls. It’s not quite clear from the pictures, but it still seems to me that a fair amount of reconfiguring occured in the 1962 conversion.

This still leaves the question of what the Leicester Street entrance lead to… and also what remains of the original Empire Theatre—other than the Leicester Street facade. I assume that the original facade was altered and possibly moved forward slightly, to yield the “Lamb” design.

In terms of the rake of the circle stepping, I think it may look that way due to higher seat backs? Also, there were a few rows of “loge” seats at the front of the “Lamb” Empire’s circle.

This picture shows just how much the ceiling has been raised. I can imagine that the divding wall isn’t far off from protruding out of the roof, so heaven knows how it was “hung”! It is also obvious that very little of the “Lamb” Empire’s interior could have survived the 1962 conversion (as previously discussed on this site)—certainly not the ceiling, nor splay walls, nor proscenium.

I had previously linked to some photos of the 1928 Empire, but those links (at the time of writing) no longer work; here are some alternative links to what I believe to be the same stock photos:

Foyer 1 Foyer 2 Auditorium

I suspect the LEDs behind seats are simply in keeping with the current fashion. I did mention at the end of the very first public screening that the colour sequencing wasn’t the same as “Screen 1” and was informed that they could be reprogrammed in any desired manor, although I suspect my comment was promptly cast aside as AFAIK nothing has changed!

I am trying to put the £150,000 figure for the 1968 Stockton Odeon into context—running that figure through the Bank of England’s Inflation Calculator gives £2.3m in today’s money. If my recollection is correct, the 1967 Plaza reconstruction would be £10m using the same converter—so it would seem to be a very good result given the budget. Regarding the capacity, was a twin cinema not considered?

It is interesting to speculate on why the Empire Leicester Square hasn’t been replaced. It may well be the case that, in more recent years, following the sale of the building by First Leisure, the change of use of the nightclub to casino saved it. I suppose one should not begrudge casinos too much; after all the Hippodrome had a restoration of sorts (albeit neither that nor the original Matcham interior are to my taste) thanks to its conversion—far better than yet another useless hotel in the heart of the West End!

curmudgeon on June 14, 2015 at 12:08 pm

One need look no further than the overview of this theatre to see the degrading bastardisation of this once grand building. Screens 4 and 5 created from spaces that had originally been toilet and green room spaces says it all.

FanaticalAboutOdeon on June 14, 2015 at 5:10 am

CF100 – I, too, wonder at the strength of the Empire Theatre’s frame to withstand the many and various conversions and additions over the years. When I read Cinema Technology’s excellent article on the recent division of the 1962 cinema, the information about the weighty dividing wall being hung from the girders made me think I should perhaps check the roof line from a distance before buying a ticket!

There is much about the 1962 conversion that puzzles me and I wish I had visited the Lamb Empire at least once to have had my own perspective of the two configurations. Sadly, I must make do with only photo’s and drawings of the older theatre. I do at least have the compensation of many visits to the Coles cinema from the ‘60s to the '90s. It occurred to me you may well be right about the later date of the contour curtain’s removal as there are many views of the twinkling stars being contemporary with the bottom edge of the curtain remaining visible just below ceiling level. The contour curtain certainly hung out of use for many years before disappearing altogether. Some years ago, during a tour of the Printworks multiplex in Manchester, I was in the IMAX projection room and had the chance to chat with the chief (who’s name I can’t recall) who had been chief at the Empire. I asked him why the contour curtain hadn’t been used for years and he said it was in perfect working order but, due to the operating system’s age, they were wary of it failing as, unlike the conventional curtain track immediately behind, which could be operated manually if necessary, it would have been almost impossible to clear it and the resultant cancellation of a performance would have been unthinkable.

The “circle” section of the 1962 cinema clearly occupied the rear circle of the old theatre but, again only having pictures of the latter, always seemed to me slightly steeper. Given the depth of the old front circle, I’ve always felt the main girder would have been slightly forward of the new cinema’s cross gangway, in which case some of the steppings could well lurk beneath the forward, sloping section of Coles' “stalls”. This is pure speculation on my part.

The foyer arrangements seem almost incomparable as the old, more spacious foyer seems to have been on a level somewhere in between the present casino floor and Empire Cinemas foyer/lounge/bar area which used to be the old circle lounge. As one would have presumably descended the grand staircase from street to foyer level, did this mean circle patrons had then to ascend stairs to reach the circle lounge or were they provided with separate access to the circle lounge enabling them to avoid the main foyer altogether? This is my greyest area, having no first-hand experience of the former theatre.

The LEDs behind the seats in the IMAX cinema puzzled me too – why? Yes, the “christmas tree” sequence of the new cove LEDs would benefit, I think, from changing. It struck me as gimmicky and somewhat amateur. Why not a constant colour combination, reducing through the spectrum during the dimming out of the downlighters just prior to the image appearing?

The Odeon Stockton’s floor, forward of the “circle” section’s echelons, did slope screenwards somewhat more than it appears to do in the photo'. The Odeon’s construction costs were low for a 1,300 seater – £150,000 – and the whole needed to be as light as possible due to the relative instability of the ground. Having the Regal/Odeon’s footprint meant the new cinema could be spacious and a seating arrangement fully tiered like, e.g. the smaller and slightly older Odeons at Merrion Centre, Leeds and St. Martin’s Lane in London, would have dictated a shallower auditorium and reduction in capacity. Fewer seats would, sadly, seldom have been a problem in the event although the new Odeon showed what it could do with the right product when “Funny Girl”, “Oliver!” (70mm. blow up) and “Battle of Britain” all had roadshow runs of up to seven weeks. The vestibule and foyer were large, though rather low, and there was ample room for licensed bar, advance booking office, cloakroom and spacious offices, staff and stock rooms. Roughly the first half of the foyer had its own, flat roof, that beyond was housed beneath the tiered “circle” section. Behind the ribbed steel facade above readograph level was fresh air. The overriding consideration during planning was the need to keep weight to a minimum. I suspect the Empire, Leicester Square would, by now, have disappeared without trace had it occupied the same ground!

CF100 on June 13, 2015 at 11:17 am

FanaticalAboutOdeon—Thank you for the fascinating structural information! One wonders how the poor old building is still standing when bearing the load of successive conversions—as I mentioned in a previous post, according to the recent Cinema Tech. Magazine article, the massive IMAX/IMPACT dividing wall is “hung” from the girders and floats off the floor—and the Casino below has additional mezzanine floor sections, etc.

There are some further elements of the 1962 conversion which remain puzzling to me. One is that I assume the “circle” section reused the structure/stepping of the 1928 auditorium; however, it appears to have been shortened. I assume the main girder is somewhere around the gangway between the “circle” and “stadium” sections. Therefore, is that part of the 1928 circle still lurking under there?

The other is the foyer—the cross-sectional diagrams (which do not appear to be accurately drawn) on the British History site show that the replacement foyer is smaller in size, and indeed the current seating area opposite the long bar has a slopped ceiling; so I assume the floor was raised up.

Soundproofing-wise, according to the article linked to from this post, the floor is 5" thick concrete. Of course, these days a floating floor would be added on top.

Regarding the LEDs, I think it was a mistake to add them behind each row of seats, and the sequencing needs to be reprogrammed.

In the post-multiplex era, it is impossible to conceive of a grand space like the 1968 Stockton Odeon being built in the West End or similar, let alone in the regions. With the flat “stalls” section, I initially assumed it was a conversion—but a quick search on Cinema Treasures revealed otherwise—though I’m slightly puzzled as to why the split flat/stadium raking. It is good to hear that, at least for a time, it had some good runs!

FanaticalAboutOdeon on June 13, 2015 at 4:15 am

CF100 – I remember being amazed at the height of the auditorium’s rear wall on my first visit to the Empire in the ‘sixties. Given the height within the ballroom, I think George Coles really was “pushing against the rafters” and utilising every inch of space available. As conversions go, this was a masterpiece even if the soundproofing left something to be desired and the dance orchestras could be heard, at times, from every seat forward of the cross gangway! During the '60s/early '70s, the Empire’s manager was a gentleman called Mr Sidi (hope I have the spelling correct) and the complaints about sound seepage at evening performances were, unfortunately, many. I never heard whether Indiana Jones’ exploits ever put the dancers below off their step! Many years ago now, I was told the new cinema was, structurally, a complete and independent “shell” bracketed to the original theatre’s upright girders within the brickwork along the side walls and that the ceiling sections also rested on these, whilst simply being “tied” to the old roof trusses above.

I wonder if the gold tiles were, at some more recent time, considered a potential distraction and painted over. You are right to say the LED installation in the IMAX screen is inferior. It is little more than a nod towards former glories – a token feature. LEDs going through an endless sequence of red/blue/green blending and singling – albeit it bright and dimmable – is no longer a novelty when millions of artificial Christmas trees and countless other applications, domestic and commercial, do exactly the same thing.

The 1968 Stockton Odeon just came too late as a 70mm. equipped roadshow house. The need to build a stadium cinema due to ground instability, caused by excavation at the Post Office building next door – which spelt the end for the former Regal/Odeon on the site, led to any image other than 70mm. appearing rather small from the “circle” section seating. During my time as manager, we did have our moments with films like “Hello Dolly!” in 70mm for short seasons and one revival I’m very proud of: “King of Kings”, three performances as a special presentation in 70mm., morning “overflow” show for schools when the matinee was virtually sold out and the evening sold out as well. My colleagues in Darlington, Middlesbrough and West Hartlepool were somewhat miffed when they discovered there were no 35mm. copies available in the UK! “The King and I” also enjoyed a profitable revival in Todd-AO and some astute programming could stem the losses but, left with sharing the Rank release, the writing was on the wall for a very nice cinema and a great staff “family”.

CF100 on June 12, 2015 at 4:22 pm

FanaticalAboutOdeon—I see what you mean about the “stage” end of the “New” Empire being in what was the stage house—it is clear from the cross sectional plans on the British History site.

The difficulty I can see with a further “cove” towards the screen is that it would be difficult to fit those tiles on a steep curve; albeit, your suggestion is a shallow curve. But the reason I suggested there could be difficulities around the constraints of converting an existing building was that, looking at photos of the “Thomas Lamb” auditorium, it would seem that, crown of the dome perhaps notwithstanding, the ceiling of the 1962 Empire was higher than that of the 1928 Empire, and the highly curved section at the projection end presumably approximately follows the constraints set by the roof. So, not knowing how the replacement ceiling was supported or hung, I’m thinking there were some constraints which led to that design—or perhaps I’m wrong and it is a flaw!

Very interesting information on the coloured lighting—thank you. Green, of course, is used with the new (inferior) LED lighting. Quite possibly the mink tiles didn’t change colour, but the gold colour tiles, I’m quite sure, did. I have indeed seen the Flickr photo you refer to, very nice. (As an aside, I stumbled on your upload of the 1960’s Odeon Stockton whilst browsing through your Flickr pages—looks like it was reasonably impressive!)

I don’t think the contour curtain was taken down until a larger screen was installed in 2006? If I’m not mistaken, it can be seen in this YouTube video of the “laser show”—which is also an excellent example of “showman” presentation skills. However, for the majority of presentations I saw in the “laser show” era, (unfortunately) I don’t recall it being dropped.

FanaticalAboutOdeon on June 12, 2015 at 1:59 pm

CF100, To put the conversion in context, the “stage” end of the new Empire, in which the screen frame sat, occupied basically the upper part of the old stage house i.e. the Empire Theatre’s fly tower. That, of course, would not have precluded creating a new proscenium arch – possibly by having one further cove, nearest the screen, narrowing slightly to form an opening with vertical sides and shallow arched top reflecting the other coves in the auditorium. Having said that, and it is a very moot point, I did like the dips that ran all the way up to the ceiling like perpendicular footlights and lit the folds of the side drapes and main curtains very nicely. Like the footlights themselves, concealed behind the slightly raised termination of the carpeting, the dips were wired in three circuits and filtered primary red, medium amber and bright blue. These gel colours were the nearest match to the three colours of the cold cathode tubes used in all the ceiling and wall coves and this meant the illumination appeared seamlessly coordinated and extremely effective.
I don’t think the lighting system ever changed, only its control by means of the new console you referred to. I’m guessing 1988 was when the stars appeared in the ceiling, the contour curtain was taken down and the lighting control upgraded. The new lighting system’s memory and pre-set facilities enabled them to run those brief “pre-show displays” when the rather unimaginative new style of lettering for “Empire” was flashed across the tabs by means of a modest laser system while the other stage lighting flashed from colour to colour. The cove lighting’s colour sequences were hardly ever used prior to 1988. Instead, all the lighting would be constant before the programme started (usually red + amber) giving a rich, golden glow everywhere. Typically, the amber would be faded out with the white downlighters which constituted the house lights, leaving a dense red glow as the curtains began to open. In the days when screen curtains were closed for several seconds between ads., trailers etc. and the feature film (which still happens at the Odeon when 2D product is being shown), the curtains and coves would usually be lit blue. This procedure was used whether or not there was any need to change the masking setting and was a very civilised pause prior to the main film, unlike most cinemas today where the entire programme runs conveyor belt fashion. It was always possible to have the different coves in differing colours or combinations and wall and ceiling coves could also be differently coloured so the permutations were almost limitless. It was also always possible to run the colour changes in automatic sequences – certainly the cold cathode elements – but that option was rarely used in my experience. No lighting in the new Empire was ever green and no primary blue gel was ever used, only bright blue. The colours were less saturated than in cinemas where the three primaries were used to mix and blend all the colours of the rainbow so the Empire sparkled brightly.

I wasn’t aware the tiles had ever changed colour – the mink or pastel grey with random gold tiles was perfectly neutral – but I would think any repainting might well have taken place in 1988 – there was certainly a great deal of scaffolding in the auditorium at that time.

You may well have seen them elsewhere but among my “favourites” on Flickr are some pictures of the 1962 Empire including one of the contour curtain set with the cables at various drop lengths and creating a very sumptuous spectacle which belies Mr Atwell’s opinion of the cinema!
Flickr member “Fanatical about Odeon” – naturally!

CF100 on June 12, 2015 at 11:34 am

FanaticalAboutOdeon—Good point on the “half dome” feature above the screen, although I liked that feature, particularly with, as you say, the fibre optic “starfield;” nonetheless, it did look somewhat disjointed.

There were hidden exits either side of the screen, behind the curtains. Also, towards that end of the Empire, there was a tank room above (now converted to offices), and it seems that at the far end the pitched roof grinds to a halt and there is a drop down to a flat roof section. So, to speculate, the lack of a “proper” proscenium may have been the price paid for converting an existent building.

If the tiles were mink and gold, when did they change colour? It seemed that there were two sets of tiles, one stuck on top of the other…

I would also be interested to know if there were any changes to the concealed lighting scheme over the years. AFAIK a new lighting control system was installed during the 1988 refurbishment, but—and I can’t find the reference right now—I gather that they were colour-sequenced right back to 1962.

As for which venue is the “zenith of cinema design,” there are of course a few candidates, but I think it’s fair to say both of those examples are great!