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 ‘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 theater’s 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 George Bell. It is 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.

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"
Gala World Premiere 10/11/66 "The Quiller Memorandum"
Gala World Premiere 29/01/67 "The Night of the Generals"
Royal World Premiere 12/06/67 "You Only Live Twice"
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 133 comments)

davepring
davepring on October 20, 2014 at 3:39 am

It would be a great shame if the last great cinema in Leicester Square was to be twinned.I just hope they follow James Hannaways example at the old Odeon in St Albans and turn this landmark cinema into something unique by reconfiguring the stalls into table seating with a bar at the rear under the circle overhang. I have rarely been impressed with Odeon conversions and bearing in mind that a new Odeon twin screen is to be built on the site of the Odeon West End I fail to see the commercial benefit of it .

goodshow
goodshow on October 21, 2014 at 11:04 am

The Odeon, Leicester square is the high water mark of cinema history in England. Imagine Buckingham Palace being turned into flats? Should not be tampered with, and thats final.

CF100
CF100 on October 21, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Planning permission, of course, is valid for some time so nothing may happen for a while, and this is assuming that the roof replacement means concurrent changes to the auditorium. Presumably it would make sense for the OWE replacement to (finally) go ahead first…

It may be extraordinary that Leicester Square does still has any “original” cinema buildings left—from what I gather from looking through archived material, the Empire was sold to Mecca with the original scheme being to knock it down and build an office block/dance hall. Only later articles refer to the reconstruction scheme into the famous 1330 seat cinema (and dance hall underneath.)

There was also a scheme to redevelop the block of buildings next to the Odeon Leicester Square (1983) into various uses cinemas… perhaps someone has more details on this and what the effect would have been on the OLS?

Summary of the 1983 proposals: http://idoxpa.westminster.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=ZZZZW3RPXC669

d8rren
d8rren on October 26, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Odeon do not own OLS it was sold a couple of years ago with Swiss Cottage after its refit both are on 20 odd year leases

d8rren
d8rren on October 26, 2014 at 7:04 pm

OLS turnover is over 5 million pounds every year which a large amour comes from film premiers in which case too much alteration could result in losing its Europe premier status

in the modern world it could do with a 25% bigger screen which could be possibly achieved by removing the last 10 rows of seats in the stalls but at a cost of over 350 seats which could either be a new bar area or 2 small screens

but everything to do with the screen is designed to be removed for the stage a smaller is installed for 3D movies

seats and legroom are a bit tight and could do with spacing out a bit more but i don’t think the seats are even 10 years old and are very expensive ones at that

if you need a massive screen imax and the sky super screen are available

OLS gives you the super cinema experience thats its selling point

CF100
CF100 on October 26, 2014 at 8:24 pm

Maybe the rumours are quite unfounded…

D8rren, any idea how the Empire LS is doing? How big is the smaller screen used for 3D screenings in the OLS?

d8rren
d8rren on October 27, 2014 at 4:04 am

@ CF100 when showing a 3D film the curtains are not in use the screen seems to be about 1m smaller in the width

Empire LS is doing ok wouldn’t say its taking much more than it was before as always it will suffer from not having 1st pick of available titles

Interstellar opens 1 day early on the 6/11/14 & is showing in 70mm format in OLS & seems to be selling well

the days of sell out OLS and Empire are over most movie goers want to see their film as cheap as possible thats why every local cinema has some sold out showing on Orange Wednesdays & Empire & OLS will be luck to be a 3rd full if i want to see a film on a wednesday i go to the west end I’ve been in OLS when they have picked a dud with less than 20 people in there

CF100
CF100 on October 27, 2014 at 5:01 pm

d8rren—Thanks for the reply. Can’t say I’d noticed that the screen was smaller but I do sit towards the front and 3D films are impressive.

On my last visit to Empire LS (a Wednesday evening) the foyer was quite busy. I’d imagine they get a reasonable number of customers in for their mini-screens. (Anyone seeing the ‘IMAX’ sign would be in for a shock, although I gather that those mini-screens are actually pretty good.)

London has now many modern local cinemas with large screens, but still, the BFI IMAX does well so some people are willing to make the trip and pay extra for something special.

Can’t work out the point of the 70mm ‘Interstellar’ screenings at the OLS when there are two other venues in London with 15/70 prints, but I suppose it’s not something to complain about!

OdeonNotFanatical
OdeonNotFanatical on November 20, 2014 at 6:40 pm

This crummy cinema chain wants and extra £1.00 pound. They don’t have great sight-lines or decent sound no THX at this cinema. No I’m not fanatical at paying there rip off ticket prices and they have rats and mice issues at this place.

Paul Stephenson
Paul Stephenson on November 23, 2014 at 3:19 am

Interesting Telegraph article about the 70mm presentation of Interstellar – their first 70mm since Armageddon in 1998

Interstellar: the secrets of the projection room

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