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.

Contributed by Steffan Laugharne, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 634 comments)

CF100
CF100 on March 3, 2019 at 7:52 am

Lionel: The smaller screen might relate to sightlines? Before the refurbishment, the front row of the circle had restricted views, and today, the bottom of the screen is only just visible over the top edge of the balcony—and that’s despite the screen being raised up.

I have uploaded a (poor quality!) photo which shows the screen taken from the front row of the Royal Circle during the end credits (out of focus!) of “Alita: Battle Angel.”

CF100
CF100 on March 3, 2019 at 8:09 am

Eomac (fit-out systems including stretched fabric and wood) now have a page with photos of the refurbished OLS.

Included are two photos of a former “Studios” auditorium. It can be seen that there is not enough space for the new seats to recline, and, the rake is rather shallow. In the latter case, the poor slightlines have been noted on online customer review sites.

With the confirmation of Eomac’s involvement with the OLS refurbishment, this means that all three of the currently operating main Leicester Square cinemas have their products installed.

joeswin
joeswin on March 4, 2019 at 4:20 am

From the pictures in this link:

https://twitter.com/jonwardle/status/1101205343483412485?s=21

it looks like the lighting was set to a warmer more red/orange colour for an event held there recently, which I think looks a bit nicer.

CF100
CF100 on March 4, 2019 at 5:43 am

Joeswin: Thank you for the link, that looks like exactly the colour I had previously suggested—“Flame White.” As the white on the screen is clearly a much cooler temperature, it’s quite plausible that the photo does show that the colour or colour temperature can be changed. (Could be RGBWW with two different colour temperature white LEDs.)

Example of “Flame White” LED strip.

CF100
CF100 on March 8, 2019 at 4:47 pm

Cinema Technology March 2019 issue is now available online, including an article on the refurbished OLS.

Alas, the article is, ahem, rather “lightweight,” and the only “new” information is the equipment list as FanaticalAboutOdeon has previously posted. It also includes basic equipment lists for the former Studios screens.

Disappointing in the extreme that the custom sound installation in particular was not covered in further detail, not to mention many other aspects.

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on March 9, 2019 at 4:37 am

CF100, I agree entirely. A more objective and detailed article was what I was expecting from C.T. of all publications. It was, in effect, far more “promotional” than “analytical” and as if the information from Odeon Cinemas was simply being passed on to readers which ought not to be the case with such a valued industry magazine.

With my “lighting man” hat on, I had been trying to discover the source of the coloured lighting which appeared at the screen end in the photo’s which accompanied the article. One picture showed a deep violet glow on the stage, splay walls and front few rows of seating while the other showed a rich emerald green. What shadows were seen on the mountings awaiting the flying nymphs suggested the light was not coming from either above or further back away from the stage. The answer came when an Odeon contact told me that the coloured bulbs in the frosted glass panels of the Compton organ had been replaced with a high spec. LED installation. Bingo! The coloured glows only appear when the organ is in its highest position with its base level with the stage.

CF100
CF100 on March 9, 2019 at 7:24 am

Eomac’s OLS page has now been updated to include the products used.

Rear stalls ceiling: Grill – cherry veneer.

Walls: Topline TLS – cherry veneer;

Lawapan – cherry veneer;

Mini Micro – cherry veneer.

Having now revisited the OLS, this time seated in the front stalls (write-up to follow,) I had a close look at the panels fitted to the lower front splay walls, which revealed a pattern of small slots.

These can be seen in the product’s specification sheet, which states that an up to 50mm “acoustic core” (absorption) can be fitted behind, which, combined with the highest “perforation rate” version of the product, affords a very high level of sound absorption at mid/high frequencies.

CF100
CF100 on March 9, 2019 at 5:49 pm

Revisiting the OLS this week, this time positioned in row “D” of the stalls instead of the front row of the Royal Circle.

I will focus less on the decorative aspects of the refurbishment, important as they are, and more on the seating position and audio/visual quality aspects of the presentation.


Incidentally, as of about a week ago, there was no sign of building work (e.g. the service yard to Charing Cross Road) and so it seems reasonable to assume that all work is now complete.


The proscenium end of the auditorium, that is to say the new walls and particularly reprofiled/lowered ceiling, actually looks fine from the front stalls, not being juxtaposed against the 1930s plasterwork above the circle balcony.

It seemed to me that the recliners were not identical to those in the Royal Circle—being narrower, not reclining as far back, and with less generous row spacing; looking at the licensing plans, they appear to confirm this. These seats are, of course, still very comfortable indeed.

From the stalls, the uniformity on screen was not as good as in the Royal Circle, with hotspotting in the centre and some falloff to the edges. However, thanks to the reclining seats, the raised screen position was no problem* and from this location, it appeared to be a reasonable size—although having more frequently sat in the front stalls than the circle, it was more obvious to me that it had clearly “shrunk.”

(*“ideally” one should be positioned somewhat above the bottom of the screen; although, personally, I quite like having the screen “towering” above as if “larger than life.”)


From the rear stalls, as the screen has been moved up, it is still the case that the top of the screen can only be seen from the last row; As previously mentioned, the bottom of the new screen location is only just visibile from the front row of the Royal Circle. Additionally, the raised screen position means that it is not notably tilted up, as it was; and it also obviates, at stalls level, the problem of the bottom of the screen being blocked by a person seated in the next row, particularly if the seat in which one is situated is reclined, and the one in front is not. Although the stalls rake has been improved, it is certainly not as steep as “stadium”-style seating.

It thus seems reasonable to assume that the reduced screen size was chosen for sightlines; in fact, from the stalls, I would guess these are better than the IMAX across Leicester Square, where, despite its stadia being reasonably steep, a tall person in front can block the bottom of the screen. (IMAX’s 1983 SMPTE Journal paper, incidentally, says that this could occur with their auditorium geometry but suggests that it is not overly problematic since nothing important should appear towards the bottom of the screen.)


See previous post on the wood veneer finished wall panelling; briefly, there are lots of small holes or slots in it and acoustic absorption behind.


The audio in this seating location was very good; if I had to be picky, it wasn’t quite as bright as I’d have liked, and there seemed to be some peakiness in the upper midrange, as well as some metallic colouration to the high frequencies. Playback seemed to be at around reference level and, although I had previously considered it to be slightly stressed under peak levels, it seemed effortless on this occasion. Subbass is very extended, albeit a bit “one note” in character, but it could certainly shake seats and pound the chest.

The Dolby Cinema trailer really showed off what the system could do, and, based on this, not only is this a first rate Atmos installation which benefits immeasurably from the auditorium’s size, giving a massive sense of scale and space, but pans around the auditorium showed very effective “pinpoint” rear/overhead imaging. Having previously discussed the IMAX 12 channel system, with its additional two sides and four overheads, it would certainly seem to be the case that Atmos is superior in respect of both diffuse surround and precise imaging. In particular, the IMAX system over in the Cineworld Leicester Square (Empire Theatre) struggles to place sounds directly behind the listener.

Additionally, despite altogether different speakers being used for the rears compared to the fronts, with yet another product being used to “fill” the back of the stalls, the whole system was remarkably seamless in terms of timbre matching.

It would seem that the work that went into designing and tuning the system has paid off.

The added capabilities of Atmos become somewhat by-the-by, however, as the sound mixes of movies just do not seem to take full advantage of the system’s capabilities and so outside of “whizz-bang” system promotion trailers, the difference is marginal. I should also add that, in my view, “multi-dimension” surround is somewhat overboard; the screen is where the action is, and the rears really need mostly to provide a sense of almost subconscious envelopment rather than sounds panning all over the auditorium. Our hearing system evolved to be most sensitive to the direction of sounds in front of us; we would simply turn our head around in case of being approached (potentially by a threat!)

It seemed that the HVAC system was slightly audible during the feature, although much quieter it was pre-refurbishment.


Comments otherwise on projection as before, although, as the performance was 2D rather than 3D, Dolby’s claims of achieving extremely low black levels became more obviously questionable. In the Dolby Cinema “Universe” trailer that was played, there is a section in which the voiceover says “THIS IS BLACK.”

I’m sorry to say that it was very dark grey, and not comparable to the “extreme” black levels achieved by high quality consumer OLED displays on the market. Based on the OLS installation, whether Dolby Cinema subjectively beats IMAX with Laser in terms of black level is difficult for me to say, and it could be that the inverse is true; however, I am confident that it is definitely not dramatically better.

As mentioned in a previous post, IMO, IMAX with Laser GT dual projection, alongside IMAX’s DMR processing, remains the best cinema digital projection system. It looks smoother and more “film-like,” in a positive way, whilst being absolutely steady and detailed, than any other.

I should also add, the slight barrel distortion to the bottom of the screen (“smiley face”) was noticeable, but in addition, I also noticed that overall there was some slight off-centre distortion to the screen—but none of this was objectionable during the main feature (only graphics within adverts or titles in the main feature to notice it.)


One issue is that the “scale” of the sound is disproportionate to the picture, in terms of space, dynamic range and low frequency impact—but—then again—would an underspecified system be an improvement?


JBL ceiling speakers are installed in the men’s toilets in the former rear stalls. Incidentally, they (same decor as the circle toilets) are a great deal better than the cramped toilets previously situated behind the right splay wall.


Not sure if the “white” decorative lighting in the coves/around the “flying ladies” was set to a warmer colour temperature. It seemed less cold than my recollection, but not as per the orange “flame white” shown in the Twitter photo previously linked to by joeswin. But, no matter what the colour temperature, the decorative lighting is not what it could be.


The front stalls thus make for a very attractive place to see a film. They are in an excellent sweet spot for the audio. It’s too bad that the screen is smaller than it was—albeit the move forward compensates—and that the screen is raised up a bit (personally, I don’t mind this) and the illumination uniformity achieved in this location is less impressive. But otherwise, first class picture and sound is on offer, comfortable seating, and the feeling of being surrounded by the auditorium of a spacious super-cinema. Added to which, the seat pricing in this location, by West End standards, is often quite competitive—and the OLS seems to be very much busier than it was pre-refurbishment.

Lionel
Lionel on March 19, 2019 at 11:29 am

I just posted my first film on YouTube. This is a Super 8mm film I shot in 1986 and 1988 showing fronts of West end cinemas (including this one) and theatres :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tnXG39F6vM

My description on YouTube : Old silent 8mm film showing fronts of West End cinemas and theatres, made with two different cameras and film stocks in 1986 and 1988. Bad quality due to age. The close-up of 70mm advertisement for “a winning double bill” was at the Prince Charles cinema for a re-run of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The close-up of THX Sound System advertisement was at the Warner cinema. The close-up of the “West End” words was the Odeon West End cinema sign.

joeswin
joeswin on April 4, 2019 at 3:31 am

I have just seen an article on the Royal Albert Hall and wondered if perhaps the OLS status as the ‘premiere’ cinema it was in past decades has diminished slightly since refurbishment.

Now that the RAH has been equipped with a new £2m speaker system, it looks like it will be a more impressive place for the bigger premieres that the OLS was once first choice for, and for which it perhaps doesn’t have that unique ‘wow’ factor it once had.(Being more or less a black box like most other places)

Article on RAH: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/royal-albert-hall-acoustics-renovation

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