Odeon Leicester Square

26 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7LQ

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Odeon Leicester Square

The Odeon Leicester Square was the ‘flagship’ cinema of Oscar Deutsch’s chain of Odeon Theatres Ltd. It was built on the site of the Alhambra Theatre (1883-1936). Designed by architects Harry Weedon and Andrew Mather, the Odeon opened for business on 2nd November 1937 with the feature “The Prisoner of Zenda” starring Ronald Colman. The seating capacity at opening was for 2,116 (1,140 in the stalls and 976 in the balcony) and the seats were covered in mock leopard-skin!

It dominates Leicester Square with its 120 feet tall tower, and the entire facade and tower covered in black granite slabs.

Over the years there have been many alterations to the interior of the cinema, including an ill-fated £200,000 ‘zing’ treatment in 1967 which removed practically the entire original decorations. Only the elaborately painted safety curtain remains original today (and that is rarely seen or used). The last film to play in the original auditorium was Audrey Hepburn in “Two for the Road” on 20th September 1967. It re-opened with a gala premiere of “Smashing Time” with Rita Tushingham & Lynn Redgrave on 27th December 1967 with a stage show featuring Cliff Richard & the Shadows.

The projection equipment includes a Cinemeccanica Victoria 8 (two projectors plus a standby machine, with large capacity spools, and in addition a platter for running 70mm as and when necessary). It is also equipped to play digital presentations, VHS, DVD and 16mm.

All digital sound formats are supported, including 8 channel SDDS. Full stage facilities are available, as the screen and stage speakers are designed to retract. There is the forementioned safety curtain, a set of house curtains and a set of screen curtains. The stage has had occasional use over the years, one occasion being during World War II when Bob Hope, Adolphe Menjou and the Glenn Miller Orchestra took to the stage, and entertained an audience which included Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower.

The Odeon also contains its original Compton 5Manual/17Rank organ, with illuminated console on a lift, Melotone, and a Grand Piano which was opened by organist James Bell. It is still played on special events, accompanying silent films and occasionally during premiere presentations.

On 20th April 1990, five additional screens were added to the Odeon, built at an alleyway running between Leicester Square and Charing Cross Road and named the Odeon Mezzanine and have their own separate page on Cinema Treasures (now known as Odeon Studios Leicester Square).

In April 1998, the building was renovated and copies of the ‘Flying Ladies’ sculptures were re-instated on the side-walls and some of the concealed lighting in troughs in the ceiling were re-lit.

Always a first run cinema, initially the films played were mainly United Artist productions. Later it premiered many films from the Rank Organisation, who took over Odeon Theatres in 1941 on the death of Oscar Deutsch. From 1946 and for many years, it alternated each year with the Empire Theatre across Leicester Square to host the Royal Film Performance. The Empire Theatre was dropped from this honour after it was modernised in 1961. The Royal Film Performance is an Annual event, unique to the United Kingdom. The film industry invites the reigning monarch or a leading member/members of Royalty to attend a performance of an unseen film, the attending audience pay big money to participate in the event, the money made goes to charity. Many film stars and personalities also attend this glittering event.

Some early Royal Film Performances at the Odeon Leicester Square have been: 1947 Cary Grant in “The Bishops Wife”, 1951 Dinah Sheridan in “Where No Vultures Fly”, 1953 Richard Todd in “Rob Roy The Highland Rogue”, 1955 Cary Grant in “To Catch A Thief”, 1957 Gene Kelly in “Les Girls”, 1966 Virginia McKenna in “Born Free”, 1962 Natalie Wood in “West Side Story” in Panavision 70, 1967 Elizabeth Taylor in “The Taming of the Shrew”, 1968 Leonard Whiting in “Romeo and Juliet”, 1969 Maggie Smith in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, 1970 Richard Burton in “Anne of the Thousand Days”, 1971 Ali MacGraw in “Love Story”, 1972 Vanessa Redgrave in “Mary, Queen of Scots” in 70mm, 1973 Peter Finch in “Lost Horizon” in 70mm, 1974 Michael York in “The Three Musketeers”, 1975 Barbra Streisand “Funny Lady” in 70mm, 1976 Richard Chamberlain in “The Slipper and the Rose”, 1977 Gene Wilder in “Silver Streak”, 1978 Richard Dreyfuss in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in 70mm, 1979 Michael Caine in “California Suite”, 1980 Dustin Hoffman in “Kramer vs Kramer”, 1981 Ben Cross in “Chariots of Fire”, 1982 Peter Usinov in “Evil Under the Sun”, 1983 Jon Voight in “Table For Five”,1984 Albert Finney in “The Dresser”, 1985 Judy Davis in “A Passage To India”, 1986 Mikhail Baryshnikov in “White Nights” and in 1987 Anne Bancroft in “84 Charing Cross Road”.

Other important events at the Odeon Leicester Square have been:
Gala European Premiere 27/8/53 “Melba"
European Premiere 19/11/53 "The Robe"
World Premiere 01/03/56 "A Town Like Alice"
Royal World Premiere 22/03/56 "Alexander The Great"
World Premier 24/05/56 "Storm Centre"
Charity World Premiere 05/07/56 "Reach For The Sky"
European Premiere 06/09/56 "Oklahoma"
World Premiere 13/03/57 "Fortune is a Woman"
Royal World Premiere 29/05/58 "The Key"
Gala World Premiere 30/12/59 "Our Man In Havana"
Royal World Premiere 11/02/60 "Sink the Bismark"
Royal World Premiere 05/01/61 "The Singer Not the Song"
Gala World Premiere 05/04/61 "The Greengage Summer"
Royal World Premiere 27/04/61 "The Guns of Naverone"
Royal World Premiere 04/01/62 "The Valiant"
Gala World Premiere 22/02/62 "HMS Defiant"
Royal World Premiere 10/12/62 "Lawrence of Arabia” in Super Panavision 70
Gala World Premiere 20/06/63 “The Great Escape"
Gala World Premiere 17/09/64 "Goldfinger"
Royal World Premiere 23/11/65 "The Heroes of Telemark"
World Premiere 5/05/66 "Modesty Blaise"
Gala British Premiere 30/06/66 "The Blue Max"
European Premiere 11/08/66 "Torn Curtain"
Gala World Premiere 10/11/66 "The Quiller Memorandum"
Gala World Premiere 27/01/67 "The Night of the Generals"
Royal World Premiere 12/06/67 "You Only Live Twice"
Gala Premiere 27/12/67 "Smashing Time"
Royal World Premiere 10/04/68 "The Charge of the Light Brigade"
Royal World Premiere 26/09/68 "Oliver"
Royal World Premiere 16/12/68 "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"
Royal World Premiere 18/12/69 "On Her Majesty’s Secret Service"
Royal World Premiere 16/07/70 "Cromwell” in 70mm
Royal World Premiere 26/10/70 “Waterloo” in 70mm
Royal World Premiere 13/01/71 “Murphy’s War"
World Premiere 07/10/71 "Bedknobs and Broomsticks"
Royal World Premiere 29/11/71 "Nicholas and Alexandra"
Gala World Premiere 20/07/72 "Young Winston"
Royal World Premiere 05/07/73 "Live and Let Die”
Royal World Premiere 08/08/74 “Caravan to Vaccares"
Gala World Premiere 05/09/74 "Gold"
Royal World Premiere 01/05/75 "Paper Tiger"
Royal European Premiere 18/12/75 "The Man Who Would Be King"
Gala World Premiere 13/04/76 "Shout at the Devil"
Royal World Premiere 16/12/76 "The Pink Panther Strikes Again"
Royal World Premiere 13/07/78 "Revenge of the Pink Panther"
Royal World Premiere 26/06/79 "Moonraker"
Royal World Premiere 18/12/79 "The Black Hole” in 70mm
Royal European Premiere 20/05/80 “The Empire Srikes Back” in 70mm
Gala World Premiere 17/12/80 “The Dogs of War"
Gala European Premiere 09/04/81 "Popeye"
Royal European Premiere 07/07/82 "Annie” in 70mm
Royal World Premiere 26/08/82 “Who Dares Wins"
Royal European Premiere 02/12/82 "Ghandi” in 70mm
Royal World Premiere 06/06/83 “Octopussy"
Royal World Premiere 01/03/84 "Champions"
World Premier 28/03/85 "Not Quite Jerusalem"
World Premiere 19/03/87 "The Fourth Protocol"
Royal World Premiere 29/06/87 "The Living Daylights"
Gala World Premiere 03/09/87 "Hope and Glory”

There are many, many, more and of course in more recent years the Odeon Leicester Square has become ‘the’ place for premieres, which seem to happen weekly!

The final regular film show was on 8th January, 2018 with “Star Wars:The Last Jedi”. On 9th January 2018 the European Premiere of “The Post” was attended by Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg. After which the Odeon was closed to be renovated & remodeled.

The rear stalls seating area has been taken over by new toilets, a switch room and larger concession area. The former front stalls is now 259 recliner seats on nine rows. The front of the circle (Royal Circle) now has three rows of 90 recliner seats. The rear circle has 446 regular seats on fourteen rows. Total seating capacity has been reduced to 794 + 6 disabled spaces (reduced from 1,683 seats of recent years). The Odeon Leicester Square was re-opened on 21st December 2018 as a Dolby Cinema with Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns”. The pre-film organ interlude had the refurbished Compton organ played by organist Donald MacKenzie.

The adjacent Odeon Mezzanine screens have been renamed Screens 2 – 5 Odeon Leicester Square(they have their own page on Cinema Treasures). It also re-opened on 21st December 2018 and have a reduced seating capacity of 116 in four screens.

Contributed by Steffan Laugharne, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 562 comments)

terry
terry on January 8, 2019 at 5:22 pm

This was in response to articles I forwarded to a friend in Germany (whose family operate cinemas over there) re the reopening of two UK cinemas on the same day, namely the Rex Wilmslow – and the Odeon Leicester Square:–

“What a warmhearted, lovely article you sent me about the recent opening of the glamorous “REX” Cinema in Wilmslow. I could truly sense that this family are doing their business with “heart and soul” and as we say over here in Germany with “Herzblut” = Heartblood. What a lovely auditorium — with S C R E E N – C U R T A I N S in function for giving the audiences not only the ultimate warm welcome but supplying them with the ultimate “Movie -Feeling” too.

Yet, the ‘OLS’ London, recently opened after more than one years costly refurbishing, transforming this once cinematic “flagship” into a Dolby Luxe Cinema looks somehow “poorly” and “cold” in comparison with the lovely ‘Rex’ Wilmslow – if I may say so.

N o S c r e e n – C u r t a i n s…….this really is an absolute “no go” for a Cinema with that history and background."

Ian
Ian on January 10, 2019 at 11:36 am

I saw “Mary Poppins Returns” here yesterday (fairly quiet at 14:15 showing but schools back now)from a front row seat in the royal box which I highly recommend as the location in the auditorium. Picture quality and sound superb. Refurb still very much on-going – mass exodus of workmen and frantic clearing-up in foyer just before doors opened. Can only echo comments above that tabs are very much required here – flying ladies due back imminently I was told by very enthusiastic and pleasant staff. Some pics:–

EXTERIOR – GLASS BOX

EXTERIOR – NIGHT NEON

CIRCLE FOYER

AUDITORIUM

Apologies for the poor quality of the auditorium shot. It was taken with permission, but without tripod, and it is very dark inside resulting in significant camerashake!

Kers
Kers on January 10, 2019 at 7:00 pm

I attended the 5.15pm performance of Mary Poppins Returns yesterday (9th Jan). I sat in the Stalls Row H, in the centre. There are just 9 rows in the stalls, which are now stepped (one step on Rows C-F and two each on Rows G-I).

Picture, sound, comfort all top notch (except the heating system had failed, so the auditorium was extremely chilly). I was told that engineers spent a week perfecting the sound system.

As others have alluded, the proscenium end leaves something to be desired. The Flying Ladies are still grounded and there are sadly no tabs. There is side masking in place, inexplicably left open before the film. There did appear to be a vertical mask that moved slightly downwards before the feature, so I fail to understand why Odeon does not start with the side masking closed, as at other sites – that would look so much more professional!

The screen has been moved up from the previous position and does not appear to be angled in the way the old screen was. One now has to look up at the screen, although not a problem in Row H if you use the recliner. The screen also looked – to my eyes anyway – slightly smaller than before. Perhaps a consequence of moving the screen upwards? I would welcome others peoples' opinion on the screen size.

The screen initially greets the audience with a static caption which simply displays the name of the cinema, this is followed by the standard CGI ‘O’ ident that played here previously. Following the adverts and trailers we get to see, big drum roll….the digital safety curtain, which is also animated and has a tune! The film itself is almost an anti-climax.

Some nice touches – Odeon employs a doorman/woman to open and close the main doors on to the street, all the staff I spoke to are very friendly and helpful, and you even get presented with a souvenir programme on the way out.

The clock and lift were still out of action – engineers were on site!

So how is business? Intially, Mary Poppins Returns was playing to audiences of around 600, but just 25 tickets has been sold 15 minutes prior to my screening. There were only 8 other people in the stalls.

I also mentioned the prices in an earlier post. My ticket cost £14.25 including booking fee and 10% member discount, a big drop from the opening week prices and cheaper than Vue or Picturehouse Central. Stan & Ollie (opening 11th Jan) appears to be maintaining the lower prices and Glass (starts 18th Jan) opening night is £30.75 Royal Circle and £20.75 in the stalls.

Now, about the film….

Ian
Ian on January 10, 2019 at 7:30 pm

Forgot to add about the souvenir programme which on page 2 states:–

LIGHTS, CURTAIN, ACTION. WELCOME TO THE ODEON LUXE LEICESTER SQUARE

Have the no-curtains policymakers ever talked to the publicity department? Or, just maybe, are they (like the flying ladies) awaiting installation?

CF100
CF100 on January 11, 2019 at 12:11 am

Thank you Ian and Kers for your accounts.


Kers:

except the heating system had failed, so the auditorium was extremely chilly

Oh dear! It was extremely cold yesterday—at least by the standards of this island’s temperate climate! Hopefully it wasn’t totally unbearable?

I was told that engineers spent a week perfecting the sound system.

If I may ask, from where did you obtain this information?

The screen has been moved up from the previous position and does not appear to be angled in the way the old screen was. One now has to look up at the screen, although not a problem in Row H if you use the recliner. The screen also looked – to my eyes anyway – slightly smaller than before. Perhaps a consequence of moving the screen upwards? I would welcome others peoples' opinion on the screen size.

Comparing Ian’s flickr-uploaded photo of the refurbished auditorium with a photo of the OLS auditorium from rear circle, it does seem that the screen has been raised up slightly, albeit looking at other photos of the refurbished auditorium with the organ raised up, it would appear that, were it positioned any lower, then it would have partially obstructed the view of the screen from the front stalls?

It does very much look like the angle has changed.

Unless the proscenium opening has been reduced in size (e.g. addition of acoustic absorption on edges)—and that would presumably be a matter of a few inches—then the screen looks about the same size?

the digital safety curtain, which is also animated and has a tune!

Good grief, it is shown after all!

Odeon employs a doorman/woman to open and close the main doors on to the street

D'oh! That’s the word I had been looking for. I suspect it won’t, but I hope that is continued.

Regarding auditorium fill rates—it is now off-season. Good to hear that it did well over Christmas/New Year.

Now, about the film…

…?

joeswin
joeswin on January 11, 2019 at 12:32 pm

It’s nice the organ will be a regular weekend feature according to their Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/BsfbQ0InZ2C/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=egjdadcb9qct

CF100
CF100 on January 13, 2019 at 5:05 pm

Brief portfolio page on Malishev Engineers' site, “Odeon Leicester Square Main Entrance.”

To quote (sic,) it “featur[es] several openings with glass fins, bespoke set of door frames and simply large glass units all designed to accommodate substantial blast loading for the whole system, including structural silicone.”

Kers
Kers on January 14, 2019 at 1:15 pm

CF100:

Thank you for your comments:

It was very cold – in fact I had to use my coat as a blanket at one point!

A member of staff told me about the sound system.

Thinking further about the screen, I am not sure if a lower position (as it used to be) would affect sight lines from the front stalls. Was that a problem before? I never sat that far forward in the old seating. The main problem with sightlines previously was if you were either short and/or had a tall person sitting in front, there could be an obstructed view. Also, the sightlines at the very back of the stalls was a problem for some people, as was the front row of the circle. These issues have now been fixed by changing the position of the screen.

I do not know how the screen now appears when viewed from the Royal Circle. From the stalls the old screen was angled up, from the circle (as far as I can remember) it looked ‘square on’.

As to the size, it would be helpful to have the screen measurements for ‘before’ and ‘after’ – that would give us the definitive answer. The proscenium arch, as was, appears to have gone, although it was very dark when I visited. I am seeing Stan & Ollie this week (from stalls Row G this time) so have another chance to experience the new set up – also going with a friend so will get another opinion.

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on January 16, 2019 at 11:18 pm

CF100: The previous screen had an image area width of 47' when masked for ‘Scope and 70mm. The screen height in 70mm. mode was almost, if not exactly, the height of wide screen/wide angle. Regrettably, I do not have the vertical dimensions.

From my seat in the Royal Circle on 3rd January, the proscenium arch appeared to be intact judging by the elongated, triangular “glows” (coming to a point at the top). The most obvious cause of this would be the proscenium verticals reducing the light spillage from screen to side walls – the tapering of the “glow” could be due to the slight tilt of the screen which, while still tilted, is at a lesser angle than before.

From 1968 until January of last year, the plain ceiling section where the downward slope of the ceiling accelerated to meet the top of the arch, invariably glowed during brighter scenes rather like an elongated cloud. The lighter paint schemes would have intensified the reflection. Now, the ceiling from just above the arch to a point roughly midway between stage and balcony is both flat and lower and flat fronted. Presumably this addition contains some of the speakers and, were it to be open at the rear or stage end, might potentially contain some stage lighting. Both apron stage around the organ and the roundels from which the golden ladies are due to leap once more, were lit a deep purple in Odeon’s photgraph atop their website listing for the flagship.

Like you, the stygian gloom throughout the auditorium prevented me from seeing much other than the seats and carpet near my seat. I’m keeping my powder dry and will, perhaps in the Spring, occupy a seat in the stalls and take a powerful torch with me in case the gloom is permanent. Come to think of it, I could also take a colour gel and a frost filter to demonstrate what a difference a tiny element of light and warmth could facilitate before the performance! That’s just in case the auditorium still resembles a certain proverbial jail in Calcutta…

Fingers remain crossed here for at least a modicum of restored “glamour and charm” – as it is, I doubt either Mr Deutsch or his wife would recognise the interior as it currently appears. All true Odeons glittered and sparkled when new, time for this most significant of all of them to catch up.

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on January 17, 2019 at 10:28 am

Given the new screen is very similar in size to the old one, there would have been no reason to remove the proscenium arch. Furthermore, the side columns of the arch (in this Odeon’s case, purely the termination of the splay walls) contain supporting girders which spring from the foundations. The top of the arch contains a horizontal girder so there would have to be a very good reason for meddling with the theatre’s skeleton in this area and I just don’t see one.

As part of the recent, thorough refurbishment of the Victoria Palace Theatre in London, that venue’s proscenium arch was widened slightly at the same time as the stage was deepened, thereby maintaining good sightlines. Although the height of the proscenium there was not increased, the former, deep house pelmet was dispensed with thus opening up the view from the Upper Circle. The works also included the building of a higher and deeper fly tower necessitating the installation of new vertical and horizontal girders in support. No such reasons existed to justify the Odeon having taken this extremely expensive route, of course, so I fully expect the 52' arch to have survived.

Ian Grundy has posted brilliant and breathtaking photographs of the works and stunning results at the Victoria Palace, including a close-up of the new and wider girder at the top of the proscenium arch, on Flickr.

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