Odeon Leicester Square

26 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7LQ

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Oscar Deutsch… The Father of Odeon…

Viewing: Photo | Street View

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 was 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!

Contributed by Steffan Laugharne, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 184 comments)

FanaticalAboutOdeon on February 17, 2016 at 12:49 pm

That’s very interesting – if a little bewildering! It should come as no surprise to many that reflected light appears brighter the nearer the viewer is to the angle of the light beam/beam angle. At OLS the screen tilt and beam angle clearly favour viewers in the circle as one is viewing the screen from an angle closer to that of the beam itself. This is not to say that viewing from the stalls is not good, it’s excellent in my experience, just that, technically, the circle has a slight optical advantage. Comparison by a guest at the Odeon would be almost impossible unless they were to be hoisted over the circle front and lowered into the stalls while keeping their eyes on the image! The same principle applies to all kinds of reflected light; my home cinema has silver satin screen tabs lit by “pageant” lights mounted 7' high some 15' away. If, when the lights are up, you were to sit on the floor near the stage and look up at the tabs, they would appear rather dimly lit. Standing at the rear wall where your eyes would be within 2' of the lights, the screen tabs appear very brilliant indeed. If you move around while keeping the tabs in view you can easily see the line and level of brightness moving/varying accordingly. The same effect is evident at the Odeon where the lights are housed on the circle front. Stand at the orchestra pit rail, look up and the tabs appear quite dark (they’re blue satin so not so reflective anyway), stand in the front row of the circle just above the lights and the reflection is several times stronger.

davepring on February 18, 2016 at 3:55 am

I was sat in row k in the stalls so that might explain the smiley end credits and from the stalls the tabs do seem dimly lit but then the whole auditorium was dimly lit giving it a shabby beige appearance.

FanaticalAboutOdeon on February 18, 2016 at 4:22 am

davepring – sadly, yes I agree and it wouldn’t cost much to replace blown lamps in spots and renew faded gels. As for the fibre optic cove and golden ladies surround lighting, that must have cost a fortune in 1998 and has never really had the effect that was conceived. Now – part of it’s on sometimes and none at all at others. It’s very unsatisfactory and all it needs initially is an enthusiastic lighting man and a few quid – I have rolls of magenta gel and I’d happily donate them! When we look at photo’s of the beautifully lit auditorium just a few years ago, it’s a great shame that such a large theatre has to look so dingy. Let me get my hands on it for a couple of overnight sessions! The additional twelve spots installed in 1998 and, filtered indigo, shining down the folds of the blue screen tabs very effectively, were removed to enable the 3D screen frame to be flown clear. Now, some of the masking felt hangs off the bottom and is visible below the proscenium top. This doesn’t affect viewing the screen of course but looks unsightly. The frustrating thing is that the Company do spend money on the place – look at the enormous LED screen and two smaller ones on the façade, they’re both versatile and very effective and cost a fortune. Regular reseating given the capacity won’t come cheap either and the new Royal Circle flooring also. The celebrated auditorium needs to glow and sparkle once more and that wouldn’t be difficult – or that expensive – to achieve. I’m aware a lot of people don’t appear to notice these things but that’s no excuse for the “lowest common denominator” attitude. If only subliminally, these things do make a difference and all add to the experience of a visit to one of the world’s most famous cinemas.

davepring on February 21, 2016 at 3:03 am

It is indeed a shame this magnificent cinema does not get the care it deserves. I remember going to an early digital presentation of Toy Story. The painted fire curtain rising in synchronisation with the theatre organ, cove and pageant lighting all in full working order and two sets of tabs gloriously lit….

CF100 on March 15, 2016 at 8:32 pm

FanaticalAboutOdeon: Of course any screen with gain is directional… despite the previously linked material, I have found the picture at the OLS in the front stalls to be excellent, and from that position, the 48ft. wide screen and excellent sound system make for a quality and “high impact” experience!

The large LED displays are particularly effective for premiere events where they can be used to show live video, and are a wonderful addition to the facade. (The planning permission only allows for static images outside of special events.)

Very frustrating indeed then that sorting out the auditorium lighting would be rather less costly! Is it the case that people “don’t notice”…? (Albeit I’m always amazed by people’s lack of awareness of their surrounding environment.) With more obvious features perhaps they do notice when it’s there… but don’t notice that it’s absent?

Example: If my “usual” cinema were the local multiplex, and I turned up to the OLS with beautifully lit tabs, then surely I’d notice it as a special feature—but I’d not notice the absence of tabs—since I wasn’t expecting them anyway?

On the subject of the Royal Circle restepping/reseating, further details on this would be most appreciated… Were the new steps simply built “on top” of the old steps?

FanaticalAboutOdeon on March 16, 2016 at 3:05 pm

CF100 I’m also amazed at how many people are unaware of their environment generally. To a greater or lesser extent, lighting, screen curtains and décor/design of cinemas will, I believe, be noticed subliminally i.e. all elements that contribute to a cinema being thought of as a nice one, and secondary to things like the comfort of seats, leg room, climate, toilet provision etc. Having said that, I’ve heard audience members at OLS commenting on the vastness and splendour of the place even before the screen has appeared and during the run of “The Hateful Eight”, many people applauded and/or whistled when the tabs first opened and that was only to reveal the Odeon “O” current logo which runs constantly in other Odeons in place of tabs and before the ads. begin! Undeniably, when curtains part, everybody knows something’s about to happen – it’s “theatre”, it’s potentially exciting, it’s probably best summed up by saying it all adds to the magic which is conspicuously absent when you’ve been faced with a blank, naked screen for ten minutes beforehand.

The re-stepping of the circle echelons some years back was a big job and was not confined to the Royal Circle, it was the entire balcony. The new steppings do not just sit above the original ones except for those in the front row, either side of the cross gangway and the back row. All seating became higher than before and this meant the wall at the front of the balcony had to be increased in height (and that those in the back row who put items on the floor often found them nicked as the floor is now at waist height of anyone walking along the rear promenade). The leg-room was increased by the new steppings being designed so that seat standards could be installed slightly further back than conventionally. The exercise was costly (new seats were fitted to the new steppings – and those seats have since been replaced themselves) and overall the balcony capacity was reduced by almost two hundred seats – mainly in the rear circle – and this was when the theatres’s capacity fell from 1,9XX seats to 1,7XX. A number of seats in the back row of the stalls was also lost in the 1998 restructering. The carpet in the rows of the Royal Circle was replaced by flooring last year and I believe the plan is to extend this to the rear circle. Bearing in mind the carpet being replaced was also new at the time of the re-stepping and the price of high-end cinema seats and we begin to see how costly it is to keep the Odeon up to scratch. The “major refurbishment” first mentioned well over a year ago, and with it the opportunity to replace tabs, repair the broken house tabs track and upgrade the decorative lighting – all non-essential of course and, with further seating replacement, foyer and lounge refurbishment etc., likely to cost £millions, looks increasingly likely not to happen until the Odeon circuit has a new parent. The rolling maintenance/replacement budget continues to be made available but every four week accounting period brings with it fiscal demands for things more essential (or likely to improve footfall) than the finer elements of presentation. It also appears that Odeon’s reluctance to install Dolby Atmos, when Dolby wanted it at the Odeon first, may well have been due to the pending sale of the circuit although I imagine Dolby would have borne much of the cost as has happened for many years when technical improvements, including new digital projectors, have taken place – it’s quite a cache when your industry advertising can include the words: “…as installed at the Odeon Leicester Square” and suppliers happily pay highly for such value.

davepring on March 23, 2016 at 4:24 am

Another 70mm film playing here now..Batman v Superman…I hope the lighting and curtain tracks have been fixed!!

goodshow on June 19, 2016 at 5:09 am

Directly related to Ken Roe’s photo of the Charge of the Light Brigade premiere, added a colour advertisement especially connected to the event

SethLewis on October 9, 2016 at 1:21 pm

Great time yesterday morning 10:30 London Film Festival show La La Land with a Q&A with Damien Chazelle & Ryan Gosling

Scary the number of attendees that seemed never to have been there before and totally lost…the back rows are super hard to see in the dim light but that’s a churlish comment..the atmosphere of a full house…applause after the opening number and at the end was so so good…definitely in need of a refurb and probably a reduction in seats but there have to be enough tentpoles and interesting pictures to keep this busy

Next Saturday morning…Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals

FanaticalAboutOdeon on March 12, 2017 at 6:51 am

Just to add to the fascinating list of films/events provided above by Steffan Laugherne and Ken Roe, “West Side Story” had its premiere/Royal Film Performance at the Odeon during 1962 and was the first presentation here in 70mm. 70mm. came surprisingly late to the Odeon (“South Pacific” was, by this time, over three years into its mammoth run of four years and twenty two weeks at the Dominion, Tottenham Court Road). “West Side Story” transferred the following day to the 70mm. equipped Metropole, Victoria and “Lawrence of Arabia” began its West End run in 70mm. at the Odeon. Many films made in 70mm. or “blown up” into the format have since been presented on the Odeon’s vast and handsome 70mm. screen and I feel lucky to have been around to enjoy many of them, beginning with the “blow up” of “Oliver!” in 1971.

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