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 153 comments)

CF100 on June 15, 2015 at 7:02 am

Can’t increase screen size without closing rear stalls due to sightlines… Reconfiguration to compete is urgent IMO…

IIRC the facade had a bit of a “patch up” job during the late 1990’s works.

FanaticalAboutOdeon on June 15, 2015 at 8:50 am

CF100 – Better late than never! Following the 1968 “zing” treatment, by Trevor and Mavis Stone, the splay walls were completely blank. Three profile spots, housed at either end of the pageant box on the balcony front, projected three spheres of light onto the opposite wall, they were filtered red, bright blue and medium amber, the three images overlapping in the centre. During the early ‘70s, an art deco, predominantly vertical, design was painted on the splay walls in maroon, red and pink. It looked like something between a high blancmange and a fountain and, if my memory serves me correctly, first appeared at the Royal Film Performance of “Funny Lady”. These flat designs were shortly replaced with abstract, rolling wave designs in maroon and grey. They were slightly raised from the walls and lit pink by the profile spots mentioned earlier. Given the two-toned red and pink panelled velvet house tabs from 1968, the wave-like shapes actually fitted in well and, like the flying ladies before them, directed the eye towards the screen. These were taken down in 1998 and replaced by the replica flying ladies.

Noodle 2510 – With regard to the Aberdeen granite black tiles on the facade and tower, these were both cleaned and polished during the 1998 reconstruction of the frontage although, for some reason, those at right angles to the theatre’s frontage were untouched. Black was chosen originally to emphasize the red neon outlining during hours of darkness. Now the theatre’s profile is once again outlined – in indigo blue – the effect of the upper building virtually disappearing within its neon halo impresses once more. Unfortunately, black granite does not weather well aesthetically, showing every spot of bird poo and city grime. I don’t think the overall covering of vinyl for the runs of “Mamma Mia!” (white) and “The Boat That Rocked” (red) helped with the appearance of the granite once the adhesive fabric was stripped off – perhaps leaving the surface more prone to staining.

CF100 on June 16, 2015 at 4:34 pm

FantaticalAboutOdeon—Thank you for the fascinating information on the post-“zing” interior. It would be most interesting to see photos!

The “rolling wave” design was not the same as the 1987 neon splay wall feature?

On the subject of its exterior, as I posted above, I recall a “patch up” job on part of the facade. This, I think, is visible in this photo; however, it now seems to be largely covered by the smaller LED displays positioned either side of the balcony.

Its impressive and imposing facade is, in peak season, invariably photographed by tourists.

FanaticalAboutOdeon on June 17, 2015 at 12:35 am

CF100 – The “rolling wave” treatment was completely different to the neon installation. It covered a much larger area of the splay walls, beginning with a series of parallel, horizontal lines immediately forward of the balcony front. The maroon, grey and red “lines” grew in size towards the stage resembling “surfing” waves building and, finally, “toppling” into cloud-like shapes, the lowest and smallest of which reached the outer face of the proscenium arch’s corner. The waves were some three inches proud of the wall itself. Unlike the vertical, rising/fading neon features, the “rolling wave” scheme was static and incorporated no lighting, instead being spotlit from the three dedicated profile spots at both ends of the pageant box. The taller, much narrower, orange neon scheme was designed to echo the patterns appliqued onto the house curtains of the same period. At the same time, a single, pink light bulb was installed in the lowest socket of each cove on the side walls and the resultant warm glows, whilst not providing the stunning effect of the original scheme, produced a very pleasing and surprisingly art deco result and far more noticeable than the sophisticated fibre-optic 1998 scheme where the effect is barely visible except from the front rows of the stalls – looking back! There is at least one photo somewhere online of the rolling waves though I’ve never seen a picture of the short-lived “Funny Lady” designs which preceded them.

CF100 on June 18, 2015 at 8:31 pm

FanaticalAboutOdeon — Thank you once again for the fascinating info! Strange that the splay walls went through several changes over the years—only for the “flying ladies” to be returned; I shall have to seek out photos.

I, too, find the fibre optic scheme to be “muted”—but it does look OK, as you say, from the front stalls.

On the topic of the shelved refurbishment planned for this year, I just ran a search on Westminster Council’s Building Control Records, and there is an application from February 2015 for a “Refurbishment of Cinema” proposed to start in March 2015. However, the application status is “Withdrawn.” I assume no further news is forthcoming on this?

FanaticalAboutOdeon on June 19, 2015 at 2:35 am

CF100 – Unfortunately, I cannot trace the picture/s I have seen, online at some point, of the “rolling wave” treatment of the Odeon’s splay walls. Of the four schemes between the original decor and the present, recreated, “golden ladies”, the “rolling waves” was the treatment I preferred. I narrowly missed seeing the Odeon’s 1937 interior (as I did the Empire Theatre) and suspect I would have found the original scheme slightly over-fussy. The plain ceiling and walls forward of the first complete cove just ahead of the balcony front always looked attractive to my eyes and seemed to emphasize the “high, wide and handsome” nature of the auditorium. There has been much unfounded criticism, over the years, in which it was claimed e.g. “The golden ladies have been lost beneath plain plasterwork” and “The wall and ceiling coves have been covered over”. All of which was incorrect and undermined the observers' genuine regret that a much plainer scheme had replaced the much-loved original. It is perhaps the case that when I first saw the Odeon, at the opening of “Oliver!”, when the new scheme was still very new, its appearance then became the “definitive” one for me.

The ten coves above the circle lounge (created in 1998) were supposed to flood the room with ever-changing rainbow colours. In practice, the colour wheels over the fibre-optic light sources soon began to stick and the situation was worsened when access to the light sources for the two coves nearest the glazed frontage was permanently blocked off, hence those coves are now dark as the lamps have long since failed. As with the auditorium coves, the fibre-optic terminals (now all on open white) look best and glitter most from the opposite side of Leicester Square!

I have not heard any more about the postponed refurbishment other than it was likely to be put back about twelve months i.e. into the following financial year. I hope to be seeing some of my “Odeon” friends later in the year and will report back if I glean anything more concrete.

CF100 on June 21, 2015 at 7:02 pm

FanaticalAboutOdeon—Based on photos, I too would probably have considered the original interior to be somewhat over-bearing. However, the abruptness of the transition to the “flat” wall section, having seen photos of the original, doesn’t quite look right; still, the auditorium is very attractive and has become the OLS interior that we all know and love.

For me, the recreated “golden ladies”—aside from (my apologies to those who very much like them) that sort of feature not being to my taste—look rather “tacked on” and I would prefer something to better match the “streamlined” part of the auditorium. I suspect they are considered the “jewel in the crown” of the 1998 refurbishment, though, so without drastic changes to the OLS one may not expect to see them replaced!

I cannot remember the colour-changing lights in the circle lounge—come to think of it, nor can I recollect what the foyer and circle lounge looked like prior to the 1998 refurbishment—albeit nothing like photos I have seen of the original interiors. Whilst, as you say, the circle foyer lighting makes for an attractive feature from the (now other side!) of the square, the replacement metal signs did not seem to me to be a step up from the previous neon scheme.

The recently installed LED displays, though, are a most useful feature during premiere events.

Thank you for your updates on the proposed refurbishment, I await any further news with bated breath!

FanaticalAboutOdeon on June 23, 2015 at 6:32 am

CF100 – I think the golden ladies were indeed probably considered the “jewel in the crown” of 1998’s revamp. I was told that, in the event, the £3.5 million budget turned out to be insufficient to include their creation and installation so some of Odeon Holloway’s “rebranding” budget was taken to ensure their presence. If the replicated figures have an Achilles' heel, it is the mountings against which they fly. The grain of the woodwork in the 1937 treatment looked superb and flowed beautifully whereas the recreated background, which contains the fibre-optic terminals nearest the proscenium, appears to be several sections of wood-effect formica or similar which is nowhere near as pleasing to the eye. The profile spots which pick out the new figures are, at present, unfiltered, open white and if they were to be filtered with a pastel gel (like, e.g. pale salmon)the inevitable dust would be much less obvious and the background panels would perhaps look warmer and nicer. Overall, the reinstated figures do work for me as a nod to the theatre’s more spectacular past. The present golden ladies are actually the third set to appear in the Odeon. During the late ‘80s/early '90s, the theatre played host to annual “tribute” events, each honouring a particular film star (Julie Andrews and Sean Connery were two so honoured). These shows, organised by BAFTA, were held in the presence of a member of the royal family who would be seated in the second row of the stalls (the first having been removed). At the evening’s conclusion, the star would descend a special, shallow staircase from apron to stalls floor, to be presented with a BAFTA award for their contribution to the industry. A spectacular show with dancers and on-stage orchestra (using the stage and pit floor in apron mode) would be followed by the celebrity concerned giving a talk about their career from a lectern to audience right. Excerpts from some of their films were screened on a square, suspended, central screen (the cinema screen and both sets of curtains having been flown out of sight for the event). Standing at either side of the stage, at a slight inward angle so, half inside and half outside the proscenium, were large set pieces which were replications of both the original “sunburst”, illuminated, curved glass splay wall sections and the golden ladies themselves. Although I only saw the shows on TV, the large features, including the ladies, looked the equal in scale to their inspirations. I, for one, would love to know where they ended up and presume they would belong to BAFTA.

The 1968 ceiling treatment of both foyer and circle lounge survived for thirty years. Both ceilings were unusual and I will attempt to describe them.

The foyer received a flat, suspended ceiling, itself having a shallow, metallic suspended rectangular feature which covered the new ceiling except for a narrow strip around all four sides. The feature was composed of randomly arranged, angular facets of shiny metal. Above the vestibule and the length of the entrance was a lighting box (almost a miniature version of the one on the balcony front) in which were housed numerous Strand Electric pattern 23 profile spots. The lanterns were filtered in various colours of Cinemoid gel and were controlled by an automatic system which would bring up and fade out different sets of lanterns at different times. The lanterns were suspended from an internal bar and tilted slightly upwards, focussed on the ceiling feature. The installation was pretty well concealed, the lenses “peeping” through a series of elongated apertures above the inner entrance doors. The effect of all this was that all the reflective facets in the ceiling would glow and fade in sequence, different ones picking up different colours and, in turn, sending out little shards of coloured light onto the plain, wood-pannelled walls (which at some stage were covered in red suede) of the foyer. From the 1987 revamp, some of the lanterns were tilted down slightly and made to constantly highlight the coat of arms feature above the, then, centrally sited sales kiosk.

The circle lounge also received a suspended, flat ceiling with an overall grey “flaked” plaster treatment. Set into the otherwise plain ceiling were three, large, square openings – one above the staircase, the other two being evenly spaced above the lounge itself. These openings were filled with suspended, narrow, metal strips in square formations which diminished but became longer (and therefore lower) towards the centre. Each of these features had lights above them illuminating both the strips and the carpet below them. The lights were coloured red, amber and open white and the hues would slowly glow and fade in sequence. Other lighting around the lounge was by a number of discreet, white downlighters set into the ceiling. From, I suspect, around 1987 the colour-changing was no longer used and these features remained lit a somewhat steely, open white.

HowardBHaas on September 30, 2015 at 2:33 pm

What year were most movies shown in digital in the main theater? In 2010, I saw Made in Dagenham in digital but what about 2009 Quantum of Solace? digital or 35mmm?

FanaticalAboutOdeon on September 30, 2015 at 4:25 pm

“Toy Story 2” was the first “film” to be shown digitally to the public in the U.K. at Odeon Leicester Square in 1999. For several years thereafter, during the transition, the Odeon’s Cinemeccanica Victoria 8 35/70 projectors and the new digital projector stood shoulder to shoulder in the theatre’s projection room and presentations in both technologies were screened as, gradually, more and more titles were released in the new format. “Quantum of Solace” at OLH was digital and, some years ago, Odeon Cinemas donated one of the Odeon’s two film projectors to the Projected Picture Trust. OLH retains the ability to show 35mm and 70mm product as well as digital. “Interstellar” was screened there in 70mm.

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