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 is due to be re-opened by Christmas 2018 as a Dolby Cinema. The adjacent Odeon Mezzanine screens will be renamed Odeon Leicester Square 2-5 and have a reduced seating capacity of 116.

Contributed by Steffan Laugharne, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 409 comments)

LARGE_screen_format
LARGE_screen_format on November 8, 2018 at 1:34 pm

Official Odeon press release:

https://www.odeoncinemasgroup.com/news/londons-glittering-home-premiere-returns/

CF100
CF100 on November 8, 2018 at 1:47 pm

Thanks to all for the heads up.

The joint Odeon Cinemas Group/Dolby press release went out via Businss Wire:

London’s Glittering Home of the Premiere Returns: ODEON Luxe Leicester Square to Reopen Following Multi Million Pound Luxe Upgrade and Introducing the UK’s First Dolby Cinema.

This is the same release but includes two high resolution renderings; alas, the auditorium is not included.

Still no view of the proscenium so it remains to be seen if tabs and masking are reinstated.

The release also reaffirms that the Compton organ will remain intact.

All is looking good though I’m still not sure what colour the sidewalls/ribbed plasterwork will be from these renderings?

Let’s hope the cinema does reopen for Christmas 2018 as stated…

joeswin
joeswin on November 8, 2018 at 1:59 pm

I would also love to see the seats upholstered in leopard print. Although from the images it doesn’t look likely.

CF100
CF100 on November 8, 2018 at 3:10 pm

HowardBHaas: As I’ve noted elsewhere on CT—Odeon Birmingham Broadway Plaza and Odeon Orpington—it seems that at least some of Odeon’s own brand premium large format “iSense” auditoria do include moveable masking.

Not sure what the impact of AMC’s ownership will be in this respect; mostly they seem to be implementing their “recliner” strategy, as well as their press releases mentioning concessions offerings. One would also imagine that the agreement with Dolby for UK Dolby Cinema sites also may be connected to AMC ownership. (Furthermore, AMC majority shareholder Wanda also has many Dolby Cinema locations built or in the pipeline in their own cinemas.)

As the new screen location appears to be behind the proscenium still, and the organ being kept in particular indicates the project’s objectives in relation to the continuity of heritage aspects, hopefully tabs and moveable masking will be reinstated—if not, at least the laser projection will yield low black levels for non-“scope” format content. Certainly letterboxed “scope” format images are, if not ideal, acceptable over in the IMAX with Laser auditorium across the square.

joeswin
joeswin on November 8, 2018 at 3:21 pm

https://uk.news.yahoo.com/iconic-odeon-reopen-uks-first-dolby-cinema-experience-170628672.html?guccounter=1

You can just about see the proscenium in the rendering here, however the screen is covered by the safety curtain, which is pleasing to see is retained. However I assume that renderings are not always accurate to what is physically created in the finished result, as it looks like the curtain is strangely floating in place.

CF100
CF100 on November 8, 2018 at 6:16 pm

joeswin: Thanks for the link.

Looks like an error in that part of the rendering?

I would imagine the old safety curtain was permanently removed in the strip-out along with the rest of the asbestos-containing materials. It’s not apparent if what’s rendered is supposed to be a curtain or simply a projected image?

Alas, the proscenium end is just too dark in this picture to make out much. It looks like the ceiling has been altered, with a “kink” just behind an overhead line array speaker.

Paul Stephenson
Paul Stephenson on November 8, 2018 at 9:25 pm

From the new renders, the slogan on the canopy now says “Odeon Luxe Leicester Square Home of Premiers”, rather than the original, more classy “Oscar Deutsch Entertains our Nation”

CF100
CF100 on November 9, 2018 at 12:35 am

Paul Stephenson: That canopy signage is in fact an LED display, as shown in the first document titled “EXTERNAL SIGNAGE” of the relevant planning application.

“OSCAR DEUTSCH ENTERTAINS OUR NATION” was example text, one might imagine to present the external proposals/signage in a favourable light; see p10 of the “DESIGN AND ACCESS STATEMENT” in the main application relating to the external alterations.

To quote:

“It is also proposed to have a white lit band to the edge of the canopy featuring a written historical reference – ‘Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation’. The Text will be provided by LED panels, and will be capable of change – e.g. for Premiere performances.”

Obviously, no such condition for “historical references” is among those in the advertising consent!

CF100
CF100 on November 11, 2018 at 3:09 am

Update: Quick visit to Leicester Square last night—conditions were not ideal due to the wet weather!

There was no sign (visually or aurally) of building work being underway, but the foyer areas were well lit.

There was very little externally visible progress, with some additional services (ducting, pipes, cable trays, etc.) added to the circle foyer ceiling.

Lest anyone think that the works are far from complete, it is instructive to review Zappomatic’s photos of the Cineworld (Empire) Leicester Square foyer works undertaken earlier this year.

Whilst that project had a different scope and set of constraints, it can be seen that from the end of February 2018 to ~6 weeks later, the public areas had been transformed from plasterboard to a finished state.

Cropped photo of the view in from LSQ uploaded.

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