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 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.

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 163 comments)

davepring
davepring on December 18, 2015 at 1:41 am

In January Odeon will be showing the super panavision 70mm roadshow version of Hateful Eight

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on December 18, 2015 at 3:15 am

“The Hateful Eight” at Odeon Leicester Square in 70mm. will be preceded by an overture (play-in music) and there will be an intermission like most stage productions have. For those who remember the real cinema roadshows, and the sense of excitement and occasion their presentation created, this is going to feel very special. Just don’t expect “The Sound of Music”!

MikeJC
MikeJC on December 18, 2015 at 8:17 am

For me, this beautiful cinema was ruined in 1967 and I heap opprobrium on those responsible. OK, efforts have been made to restore some of the magic, but I’m afraid that the place no longer holds much attraction for me. Hooray! They kept the organ, which in its specification is closer to a concert instrument than a pure cinema one. Funnily enough, the Melotone never sounds quite right to me – perhaps because it speaks through BTH loudspeakers rather than the more usual Vitavox horns. A bit of nit-picking now, the first organist was James Bell (not George Bell), a classically trained Scottish gentleman whose playing, while not very exciting, was superbly musicianly, his having studied under Sir Walter Parratt at the Royal College of Music. He collapsed on completing a broadcast from the theatre in 1947 and died in hospital shortly afterwards. His place was taken by John Howlett who stayed until 1958, when Gerald Shaw took over until his untimely death in 1974.

SethLewis
SethLewis on January 9, 2016 at 11:48 am

1045 show of H8teful Eight this morning with my fellow film geeks…great fun good crowd participation…the fun of seeing a couple of black countdown numbers after the overture…a programme And even walking concessionaires with hot dogs at the intermission A treat!

The film – just good Tarantino grand guignol…Jackie Brown remains his masterwork in terms of real characters with an assist to Elmore Leonard…but it works…the overture by Morriconne is lovely as is the opening them…love the retro credits at the beginning…great photography, colour, songs by Crystal Gayle and Roy Orbison opening and closing the second part

Lovely for a London audience to join in a round of applause and actually stay for the credits! The 245 show appeared to be close to a sell out

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on January 9, 2016 at 1:00 pm

Have a seat in the Royal Circle waiting for me next Thursday (14/01/16) and can’t wait! The advantages of the huge Odeon are such that I happily do a c.400 mile round trip to enjoy films there – as in all things, you get what you pay for. I hope Odeon Cinemas Holdings Ltd. continue to market and exploit the theatre’s special facilities and attributes, with the Empire effectively “gone”, this is the last citadel for those of us who enjoy their big screen entertainment in large, impressive auditoriums.

CF100
CF100 on January 30, 2016 at 12:45 pm

Video

Under construction (incl. balcony structure) and early interior photos; videos of the ‘Dutchess’ being played, opening day ‘plaque’ reveal, lowering of the safety curtain, and building work; interviews.

Perhaps someone could identify the individuals featured?

davepring
davepring on February 5, 2016 at 8:49 am

Made my first visit in many years yesterday to see The Hateful Eight.The 70mm print was superb but unfortunately for the ads and trailers the massive screen was not masked down to standard widescreen format.The wonderful auditorium was dimly lit and none of the cove lighting was working.In such conditions people were struggling to find their seats in the stalls and of course there were no staff in the auditorium. Sad to see this place not getting the tlc and showmanship it deserves.

CF100
CF100 on February 7, 2016 at 2:24 am

Finally, I have found pictures of the 1987 house curtains and splay wall neon feature:

House curtains and neon splay wall feature

Neon splay wall feature

The cove lighting can also be seen.

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on February 7, 2016 at 4:39 am

davepring, I agree, the auditorium is too dimly lit. There used to be a good deal of diffused light from the beautifully lit tabs (both screen and house tabs) but since someone at HQ decided it would a good idea to have blue screen tabs (more corporate!), these have never lit well. The fact that some of the fourteen spots in the “pageant box” on the circle front need lamping up and the once “middle rose” colour gels in them have faded to a reddish brown doesn’t help. As you say, the lack of cove lighting adds to the gloom. Oddly perhaps, the cove lighting around the golden ladies was in use during the run of “Spectre”, set on indigo blue. The pictures of the auditorium in its 1987 guise are great to see, thank you CF100, it should be borne in mind that the very powerful cleaners' lights are blanching out the colourful effects. The spotlights then were on three colour circuits and red, amber and blue gels used for very effective changing/blending whereas, since 1998, all the spots have been on one circuit so the colour is invariably pink ish! By 1987 there was no cove lighting but Chief Engineer, Nigel Wolland, demonstrated just how effective a single, pink lamp in the lowest socket in every cove could be – just visible despite the cleaners' lights in the side view. I liked the appliqued house tabs and silver screen tabs very much although I was less impressed by the neon. Perhaps those curtains plus the replicated golden ladies would have been a really nice combination…

davepring
davepring on February 8, 2016 at 4:12 am

CF100 That is great photo of the House tabs and its a shame they were not kept.Unfortunately the suits have no idea as to how to make the most of this iconic venue…its not a multiplex!

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