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 117 comments)

CF100 on August 20, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Subwoofers have been upgraded to 4x Luis Wassmann LW6017 (dual 21"), according to http://www.luiswassmann.com/web/es/installation-list/odeon-leicester-square.html

On a recent visit (“Pacific Rim”) the sound was excellent.

I noticed the rear array are still JBL units. Does anyone know what speakers are used for the main screen system?

Mike_Blakemore on August 21, 2013 at 3:53 am

The Group Photo… The Man behind Oscar Deutsch is Andrew Mather.. Who designed The Odeon Leicester Square

MikeJC on August 21, 2013 at 6:51 am

I think you’ll find that the name of the organist who opened the Odeon Compton in 1937 was actually James Bell (not George). He was a Scotsman whose playing tended to reflect a rather classical approach (i.e. supremely competent and musicianly, but not very exciting to listen to). He remained at the Odeon for nearly ten years, his tenure being sadly cut short by collapsing immediately on completing a broadcast on 22nd September 1947 and dying shortly afterwards in hospital. His replacement was John Howlett, who sat in the ‘hot seat’ until October 1958, when he retired. He was followed by Gerald Shaw, the last full-time organist until his untimely suicide in April 1974. After this, Odeon declared that they could no longer afford the luxury of a full-time organist. The instrument is maintained and has been played on an ad-hoc basis by various organists, the most recent being Donald MacKenzie, who now fulfills the role of “House Organist.” As one can imagine, this instrument has a reputation of being “rather unlucky.”

FanaticalAboutOdeon on August 21, 2013 at 12:48 pm

I attended a number of lunchtime organ concerts at the Odeon in the early ‘seventies during Gerald Shaw’s tenure and I was sad to learn the nature of his death. I’ve since enjoyed many concerts there by Donald Mackenzie and a number of guest organists including the late Carlo Curley. Despite not being played on a regular basis, the “Duchess” five manual Compton is just one of the features that set this fine theatre apart, and it is great that the instrument is maintained and playable almost seventy six years since its installation.

MikeJC on August 22, 2013 at 7:42 am

Further evidence as to the organ being “unlucky”, I’ve just remembered that a concert audience in the 1970’s witnessed the distressing spectacle of Frank Olsen suffering a massive heart attack when playing his opening number, causing him to fall off the organ bench on to the floor the orchestra pit, which was a long way down at this venue. Very sadly, Mr Olsen did not survive this.

CF100 on September 22, 2013 at 5:57 pm

With the Empire twinning currently underway incorporating a giant-screened IMAX auditorium and therefore automatic bookings of IMAX-released movies, what will be the future of the Odeon Leicester Square?

The current screen size (48ft. wide?) is restricted by the sightlines from the rear stalls… if an overhaul happens it would presumably have to be extensive?

FanaticalAboutOdeon on September 23, 2013 at 10:06 am

Certainly the height of the Odeon’s screen is restricted by the balcony overhang from the rear stalls. It is hard to see how the theatre could be re-configured to accommodate a true IMAX screen and I, for one, certainly wouldn’t want it. When non-IMAX films are released and can be shown on IMAX screens – “Skyfall” for example – it’s interesting that, commercially, the Odeon holds its own very well due, of course, to the 1,700 + capacity. Even when such a popular film is playing at Odeon BFI IMAX at Waterloo and numerous suburban complexes that include an IMAX auditorium, THE Odeon can trump them all in the takings stakes with its appetite for cinemagoers. Wall-to-wall/ceiling to floor screens are not the “be-all-and-end-all” and the Odeon remains a venue of choice for many who want a huge screen and terrific sound in very comfortable surroundings without necessarily being dazzled and “blown away”! Happily, distributors are still booking slots literally years in advance to secure their opening at the O.L.S. My only concern is that it’s a very expensive theatre to operate in between the big launches and when the film is not the blockbuster the makers, and exhibitors, hoped for.

SethLewis on September 23, 2013 at 11:49 am

It is a shame that they never have gotten the seating right in here…great screen and atmosphere just uncomfortable to sit in the stalls…it would be worth it to trim capacity a bit and make it that much more comfortable

Great memories over the years…Live and Let Die opening week…More recently City Slickers, Philadelphia, The Age of Innocence, Titanic, Men in Black, Finding Nemo, the last Batman, Remains of the Day opening night LFF

FanaticalAboutOdeon on September 23, 2013 at 2:27 pm

SethLewis Having been entirely re-seated as part of 1998’s £3.5 million refurbishment, the new stalls seating was neither as comfortable nor as stable as the seating it replaced in my opinion. However, just a few years later, the “new” seats were themselves replaced by far nicer ones. Not only was seating also replaced in both the Royal and Rear Circle but the echelons were also reconfigured from front to back – this gave much greater legroom and cost the theatre between two and three hundred seats which certainly “trimmed” the capacity upstairs! It remains my favourite cinema even though, having left London, a visit entails travelling 400 miles – journeys I’m happy to make to enjoy the “Big cinema experience”. Like you, I love the theatre’s atmosphere and have seen many of the films there since 1971. Royal Film Performances work better there than anywhere else. I saw the 70mm. blow-up of “Titanic” there five times with both friends and colleagues, some of whom asked such questions beforehand as “We could see it in Wimbledon couldn’t we and it’s cheaper?” From entering the Royal Circle and finding Donald Mackenzie playing the Compton organ, to watching both sets of curtains sweep majestically to a close at the very end of the credits, all their queries as to why we had to see it there just disappeared and they talked all the way home about what an amazing experience it had all been. Some of them had never seen or heard anything like it.

Mike_Blakemore on November 18, 2013 at 4:48 am

@ FanaticalAboutOdeon .. Yes I know what you mean. Alas its been a long time since I last visited the Theatre Which is what I would call a semi Royal premier. With the Duchess of Kent as guest of Honour. with Myself sitting right behind her. Thankfully she did not block the view.. (These people that drop names. Get on my nerves.. as I said to the Queen the other day.. :@) Hmm. I wonder if I could use my Cinema Veterans Pass on an Afternoon Matinee :o)

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