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 141 comments)

Paul Stephenson
Paul Stephenson on November 23, 2014 at 11:19 am

Interesting Telegraph article about the 70mm presentation of Interstellar – their first 70mm since Armageddon in 1998

Interstellar: the secrets of the projection room

goodshow on December 14, 2014 at 2:43 pm


FanaticalAboutOdeon on December 16, 2014 at 10:07 am

The Odeon, Leicester Square is due to close in March for an expensive refurbishment during which Dolby Atmos sound system will be installed. There are no plans to sub-divide the auditorium which remains the West End’s sole remaining large cinema still offering its original configuration of stalls and circle. The Odeon’s seating capacity, reputation, position and celebrity are invaluably important to all major distributors. I’m already relishing the prospect of travelling two hundred miles to enjoy “Spectre” from an armchair in the theatre’s royal circle. The Leicester Square Theatre/Odeon West End will close in January to be demolished.

CF100 on December 16, 2014 at 11:26 pm

Finally some good news after much speculation! I assume this means that the ‘Dutchess’ will be kept.

Not sure what there is to ‘expensively’ refurbish in the auditorium other than upgrading the seats—perhaps some carefully integrated elements to control the acoustics? I don’t understand how Dolby Atmos could be installed without eliminating the rear stalls. The only option I can see is to have two levels of side and ceiling speakers, with the lower level time aligned/delayed with the upper, and careful choice and positioning of the upper speakers. Still would seem to be an audio scrambled egg in the making!

I do hope the current bland foyer areas will be completely reimaged.

CF100 on December 17, 2014 at 1:52 pm

The above-linked BBC article states that “the tower of the OLS… still stands today… despite not being listed.”

This is, of course, true, but since Leicester Square is a conservation area, the frontage is afforded some protection. I suspect an OWE-like scheme for the OLS would go down like the Titanic.

Cjbx11 on January 19, 2015 at 12:07 am

If the Odeon is being referbished I hope they improve the foyer area. I always thought it odd that when they had there last major refit in the late 90s they put so much effort into restoring the auditorium back to it’s origanal 1930s style while the foyer was turned into this ultra modern almost clinical style which I always found to be rather cold and unwelcoming.

FanaticalAboutOdeon on January 19, 2015 at 12:42 am

Yes, the main foyer did become rather bare and chilly. The 1998 revamp/rebranding included illuminated friezes around the new entrance to the stalls and the sales counter, projected signs for stalls and circle and Optikinetics projected version of Odeon clock. Also installed, and still there, above the entrance doors was a Miniscan effects projector which originally panned the new style name across the floor and walls. The coloured, cold cathode lighting for the friezes and various projected images along with the fibre-optic illuminated circle stairs were principally the reasons for the plain, light treatment of the walls and floor – it was meant to gleam and glitter with so many different reflected lights. Unfortunately, all too soon several elements of the lighting scheme failed and repair/replacement proved difficult or impossible to carry out so only the stair lighting and STALLS sign remain today making the rest of the foyer somewhat drab. The ten parallel lighting coves above the circle lounge all originally changed colour through numerous beautiful hues. The light sources for the fibre-optic light cabling all had colour wheels attached to provide what was an eye-catching effect. Once again, with constant use, the colour wheels began to stick which spoilt the effect and the light sources (in some very difficult to access places)were switched to white. Sadly the sources for the three coves nearest the front of the theatre’s glazed frontage are now impossible to reach safely hence those coves remain dark.

The only attempts to recall the Odeon’s original splendour in the auditorium were the replicated golden ladies on the splay walls, fibre-optic lighting tails in the coving above the circle and around those ladies and the leopard skin design of the new seating. The seating was completely replaced some years back with more leopard skin upholstery except for the royal circle where the new seats were blue. It’s worth remembering the entire circle was expensively re-stepped to increase legroom early this century and much valuable capacity was lost in the process.

I hope the forthcoming refurbishment will retain the things which make the Odeon so special while restoring some of the warmth the public areas used to have.

CF100 on January 28, 2015 at 12:36 am

Further thoughts on the (potential?) Atmos installation: the rear stalls don’t have enough height for the ceiling speakers. Also, might they be intending to become a “Dolby Cinema” location, which Dolby are promoting as an IMAX-competitor? (Laser projectors., HDR, etc…)

On a different topic, I recall before the 1998 refurbishment, when the “flying ladies” were recreated, there sections of red neon strips on the splay walls which mirrored the red pattern on the main tabs. I cannot find any photos or reference to this anywhere, although by then it looked terribly dated!

FanaticalAboutOdeon on March 14, 2015 at 11:08 pm

CF100, Photographs of the 1987 house curtains with the three appliqued stripes terminating in vertical wavy lines towards the centre (and the orange neon stripes on the splay walls which replicated the pattern) are scarce as hens' teeth I’m afraid. I do have a faded copy of a photo' of those tabs taken during an organ concert and they can be seen opening and closing (as well as the neon installations rippling in and out) at the end of a DVD I have of numerous cinemas filmed by the late Tony Moss. I have a home cinema and when those tabs were in use, between 1987 and 1998, J. C. Joel, who produced them for Rank, also made a pair for me to the same specifications but for a 12' track. If you’d like to see mine, I’m on Flickr as “Fanatical about Odeon” and there is a shot of them in my photostream. I always liked the look of those tabs (hence having them in my Odeon) but thought the neon gimmicky. The design was typically art deco with a hint of arts and crafts which, to my mind, would have gone well with the restored flying ladies. Coincidentally, I’ve just spent most of today at the Odeon and I learned that the planned refurbishment has been postponed until early 2016. Things are quite fluid with the parent company (to float or sell?) at present and this may have had a bearing on the decision. With the Odeon West End finally gone and Marble Arch doomed, Odeon’s presence in the West End is now really a clutch of small complexes and the flagship. With “Spectre” and “Star Wars the Force Awakens” on the horizon, there is, at present, much for my favourite cinema to look forward to. They’re still putting on a good show and using screen masking and screen tabs (for 2D product)and when I watched “Marigold Hotel II” earlier, the ‘Scope image was stunning and the sound excellent.

rasLXR on March 14, 2015 at 11:41 pm

Yes not much presence in the West End for Odeon when I started with them they had Odeon L Sq, Haymarket, St Martins Lane, Marble Arch, Kensington, Chelsea, Westbourne Grove, Swiss Cottage, Dominion Tott Crt Rd, the Astoria had just opened Elvis show, Metropole and New Victoria had gone.

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