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Odeon Leicester Square

26 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7LQ

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Odeon Leicester Square

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 £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 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"
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.

Contributed by Steffan Laugharne, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 330 comments)

LARGE_screen_format on June 15, 2018 at 3:57 pm

Can you please post a link to Showcase Westquay as I can’t seem to find it using the search box?


CF100 on June 15, 2018 at 7:42 pm

Following my comment earlier this week:

As far as I could tell from outside, the circle foyer’s false ceiling has now been completely removed.

I have now processed and uploaded a photo into the circle foyer taken externally to the OLS. It can be seen that the false ceiling has indeed been removed.

LARGE_screen_format on June 16, 2018 at 2:49 am


I even posted on the Showcase de Luxe Southampton page a few days ago whilst doing some quick research in laser projection in UK cinemas.

Need to visit that cinema plus Odeon, Bournemouth (BH2).

CF100 on June 17, 2018 at 4:35 am

“7 Dolby Cinema Sites to Open in the UK” – Forbes 13th June 2018.

“Dolby hasn’t announced yet where the seven new Dolby Cinema Odeons are going to be located (though an industry contact tells me that one is going to be the Odeon Leicester Square)…”

(Article author John Archer is well known as a contributor to various AV publications.)

LARGE_screen_format on June 17, 2018 at 5:55 am

Seen as Dolby have recently made the announcement of opening seven Dolby Cinema sites in the UK in collaboration with Odeon cinemas why not also confirm if indeed Odeon, Leicester Square is to be the first such Dolby Cinema?

Surely it would create even more of a buzz rather than if it is kept under wraps until any announcements regarding the re-opening of OLS take place?

CF100 on July 2, 2018 at 3:45 pm

LARGE_screen_format: No idea what the terms of agreement are regarding disclosure but I wouldn’t imagine marketing would be thinking of creating a “buzz” until close to the reopening date.

(I suppose the cost-benefit would be positive, since the marginal cost is essentially zero, if they were thinking of getting out information to more technically-minded enthusiasts. However, I doubt that the success of the project would be riding on this; the average cinema-goer isn’t going to read some article about it hidden away in the “back pages” of the generic “press” and respond to it by thinking “OMG, OLS reopening with Dolby Cinema in many months' time, must talk about it incessantly and remind all my Facebook ‘friends’ every week!”)

I have uploaded a photo, taken last weekend, of the rear “Service Yard” area from Charing Cross Road. A Portakabin that I don’t recall being there previously can be seen positioned by the entrance. The cinema building itself is at the end of the yard, with external staircases, and going by the licensing plans, behind what appear to be broken windows (!) at the upper level are disused dressing rooms.

The upper level auditoria of “Odeon Studios” are just behind these rooms.

I took a number of photos of the Leicester Square frontage, but the changes are not really significant from my last trip. There is a waste chute down from circle foyer level which presumably heads down towards a skip behind the LSQ hoarding, and the hoarding has been extended to cover the entire width of the LSQ frontage.

CF100 on July 24, 2018 at 2:41 pm

External scaffolding has now been erected on the Leicester Square facade. As far as I could tell, the foyer areas are in the same stripped state as previous posts, with what I assume to be the underside of the circle stadia still visible.

ritzman on July 31, 2018 at 4:40 am

I do hope the original ceiling treatment is restored to the proscenium opening.

CF100 on August 2, 2018 at 6:34 pm

ritzman: That would be nice, but given the “large format” — possibly Dolby Cinema — screen slated for the refurbished OLS, I wouldn’t get my hopes up—at least not in the original location!

It will be interesting to see just how much plasterwork is retained or reinstated. The auditorium as it was would need a lot of acoustic treatment were it to be brought closer to current “new build” standards.

Of course, the forms could be recreated to a lesser or greater degree of exactitude using modern materials, as was the panelling around the “golden ladies” in the late 90s refurb using, AFAIK, stretched fabric panels, where wooden panelling was originally used.

Incidentally, Eomac—the company that seemingly supplies stretched fabric profiles and textiles to just about every new or refurbished cinema on the planet, also offer acoustic wood products.

Acoustic plaster solutions also exist, e.g. Quietspray (no idea if that would be suitable or not to recreate the 1930s forms, but as an example of a plaster system that has good acoustic absorption performance.)

I suppose all depends in part on just how much money Odeon are willing to throw at the project, and ability to diverge from the path of least resistance, for non-obligatory heritage reasons.

Update: The LSQ scaffolding has been covered over with fire retardant sheets; I did take some photos, but thinking about it, it really isn’t very interesting! However, it may suggest that work is now progressing to the foyer/facade phase.

No changes to views from Charing Cross Road.

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