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 was re-opened on 21st December 2018 as a Dolby Cinema with Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns”. The pre-film organ interlude had the refurbished Compton organ played by organist Donald MacKenzie. The World Premiere of “Alita-Battle Angel” starring Rosa Salazar & Christolph Waltz was held here on 31st January 2019.

The adjacent Odeon Mezzanine screens have been renamed Screens 2 – 5 Odeon Leicester Square(they have their own page on Cinema Treasures). It also re-opened on 21st December 2018 and have a reduced seating capacity of 116 in four screens.

The International Premiere of the Netflix film “The Irishman” was held on 13th October 2019, closing the 2019 BFI London Film Festival. The stars and director of the film attended.

Contributed by Steffan Laugharne, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 717 comments)

CF100
CF100 on January 1, 2020 at 4:45 pm

(Belated!) best wishes to all for 2020…

Lionel
Lionel on January 3, 2020 at 7:58 am

Best wishes to all for 2020. May this new year be outrageously filled with festoon curtains, concealed lighting and adjustable screen masking!

I will propose again a gathering for some us who may be willing to know each other in real life around a drink or lunch in the West End. However I don’t know when I’ll be in London again. This site lacks a discussion board where we could discuss things that aren’t related to a specific theatre.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on January 3, 2020 at 8:32 am

Lionel; Your suggestion for a meet-up of fellow Cinema Treasures contributors in central London is a good idea. I would suggest meeting in Wetherspoons Montagu Pyke, Charing Cross Road, former Charing Cross Road Cinematograph/Cannon say an early afternoon on a date to be suitable for all who respond. I will keep any comments relating to this on this page until a result has been achieved, I will then delete them. Ken Roe, Volunteer Theatre Editor, Cinema Treasures.

terry
terry on January 3, 2020 at 9:47 am

It would be good for contributors to meet in a convivial atmosphere. I live in the North but used to often stay at friends in Hampstead and Belsize Park. The latter has sadly recently passed away whilst the former is in the throes of moving to a larger property (currently undergoing renovation) in Beckenham where I have an invitation to visit sometime after March. If the gathering is proposed for slightly later in the year it would be nice to attend.

CF100
CF100 on January 3, 2020 at 10:27 am

Lionel: Would love to attend.

I am flexible on date as I live in London. Ken Roe’s suggestion of “The Montagu Pike,” having a relatively spacious interior thanks to its original use as a cinema, sounds like a fine idea too.

Lionel
Lionel on March 17, 2020 at 4:53 am

I posted a picture of the Odeon, taken when I was a student on holiday with my dad in August, 1991. The film I saw at the Odeon was Edward Scissorhands which played in 70mm there. I remember this evening. London was congested at a level I’d never seen because Pavarotti was coming to sing in Hyde Park and I didn’t know. Tubes were delayed beyond reason. I took a cab from our hotel in Lancaster Gate to Leicester Square, while my dad took the tube to go and see a show in the West End. Because of the congestion, the beginning of all stage shows in the West End was exceptionally delayed by 30 minutes as many spectators were late.

The projection at the Odeon was pristine as usual. I planned to sit at the first row of the Royal circle. Unfortunately, for the first time – and I ignore the reason, I was not asked to choose my seat and the cashier gave me a ticket for the upper circle. I wasn’t pleased at all, finding the view rather far from the screen, especially considering that Edward was a blow-up print in 1.85 ratio that didn’t fill the whole 70mm aperture.

Furthermore, I was the first spectator to enter the circle and it remained so for several minutes until the next spectators (a father and his young son) entered and came to sit right next to me. We started a little chit-chat and he wondered too, why he hadn’t been asked which seats he wanted. He explained that they were living outside Central London where multiplex cinemas were more comfortable as they offered more space for the legs, but he took his son to Leicester Square cinemas just to show him the grandeur and technical superiority of these theatres. Ah… what a good education! Anyway, I went to complain to an usher about my unsatisfactory seat location. As the first row remained unoccupied, she allowed me to sit there once the film started.

Have you experienced being assigned a seat without being asked, in a Leicester Square cinema? I’m not speaking of the new Warner of 1993 where, as it stated above the desks, “seat attributed by the computer” (which is the reason why I never wanted to go there anymore).

CF100
CF100 on March 17, 2020 at 5:06 am

Wish all fellow Cinema Treasures contributors good health, as we reach the next phase of the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK and elsewhere.

Odeon have now closed all cinemas “until further notice.” Auditoria that I checked have been virtually empty over the past few days.

CF100
CF100 on March 17, 2020 at 12:07 pm

Lionel:

Have you experienced being assigned a seat without being asked, in a Leicester Square cinema? I’m not speaking of the new Warner of 1993 where, as it stated above the desks, “seat attributed by the computer” (which is the reason why I never wanted to go there anymore).

I don’t think so, and I would always ask about seating location when buying a ticket. In those days I mostly went to the first performance on a weekday during school holidays, and as there would be so few in at that time, seating wasn’t assigned.

I think at the Warner West End you could always ask for the “automated” seat allocation to be changed. In a way, this is better than the current situation, where patrons end up being clustered around the centre of the auditorium, and I doubt most of them are quite so bothered about being in the “sweet spot” compared to you or I.

I can’t remember the last time I attended a performance not seated on, or at least very close to, the centreline.

On one occasion, I did end up sitting in the back audience left corner of the OLS circle, as my friend bought the tickets. I also ended up being seated at the back of the audience right stalls once, when it was exceptionally busy. The top of the screen only just avoided being obscured by the balcony.

The shallow rake of the old cinemas (e.g. OLS or Empire 1 stalls) became quite unacceptable, particularly once the “next generation” multiplexes with steep stadia arrived in the latter half of the 90’s.

Lionel
Lionel on March 17, 2020 at 1:29 pm

About coronavirus: where I live now, it’s still OK. Just 2 or 3 cases (known) and we’re able to keep a life as normal as possible. The damn thing is delaying our Cinema Treasures meeting at the Montagu Pyke though, and I hope you’re all safe so far.

I was once seated in the rear left area of the stalls at the OLS, for a film in 35mm 1.66, and the picture would have been slightly cropped by the circle, should I have seated just one row behind. It was close.

CF100
CF100 on March 20, 2020 at 6:18 pm

Lionel: As you may have heard, cinemas, pubs and other public venues are now compulsorily closed in the UK. :–( Leicester Square was featured in a news segment yesterday evening; it was almost empty. The reporter stood in Leicester Square Gardens with the OLS behind—how very odd to see it with all the lighting and LED module displays out of action.

Food retailers are stripped each day as if hit by locusts. Fortunately I had pre-booked a supermarket delivery and as of today we are now well stocked.

Let’s hope our favourite cinemas return back to business as usual at some point. Strange days indeed.

Regarding the sightlines in the OLS—come to think of it, I probably was not sitting in the last row of the rear stalls. I can’t even remember the movie now, though, let alone the aspect ratio. With the screen raised in the 2018 refurbishment, and the increased rake of the stalls, despite the rear wall being moved forward, sightlines to the top of the screen remain tight in the last row of the stalls.

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