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Odeon Leicester Square

26 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7LQ

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Odeon Leicester Square

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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 is probably due to re-opened in late-2018.

Contributed by Steffan Laugharne, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 357 comments)

CF100
CF100 on August 18, 2018 at 7:37 am

Addendum (again!):

In the process of editing, I seem to have accidentally deleted the following:

  • The former Screen 1 (of Odeon Mezzanine/Studios) will be replaced with 2x “VR Rooms;” the main auditorium of the OLS is now Screen 1.
CF100
CF100 on August 18, 2018 at 2:27 pm

LARGE_screen_format:

That’s a huge outlay if the main changes are just seats and extra restrooms compared to what has gone on across the square at Cineworld, LSQ over the past five years.

I thought so too—but let’s do a crude “back of an envelope” cost calculation:

According to Independent Cinema Office – How to Start a Cinema – Capitalisation:

“At the top of the range a specialist exhibitor would expect to pay around £2,000 per square metre [for fitting out.]”

No idea when this guide was published, plus all the other factors that would need to be taken into consideration— however, the cost/sq.m. can be estimated for recent refurbishments of the neighbouring cinemas:

Empire 1 IMAX conversion – Estimated ~1500sq.m., cost £4m = £2700/sq.m.

Vue West End refurbishment – ~6000sq.m., cost £6.7m. = £1100/sq.m.

Cineworld (Empire) LSQ – Lobbies/4DX conversion/Screens 1-3 and 5-7 refurbishment – Estimated ~1300sq.m.*, suggested cost £5m = £3850/sq.m.

(*Lobbies/4DX area according to Chapman Taylor; other refurbished screens estimated.)

Unweighted average for Empire/Vue/Cineworld = ~£2600/sq.m.

Using this figure for the OLS – Estimated ~3000sq.m. (including former Studios but excluding stage house, basement, etc.) = ~£8m.

The scheme does involve structural alterations, particularly to the foyer areas; the addition of lifts and escalators, and a new “glazed box” balcony/canopy on the LSQ elevation.

Planning application in relation to above paragraph.

Also, the building fabric may require attention—the asbestos roof was replaced a couple of years ago, and the enabling works for the refurbishment also involved asbestos removal.


I agree that a giant screen in the OLS would be nice, but at the same time the fact that the auditorium looks like it will be reinstated in a state highly respectful to the heritage is a huge relief. It is the last “super cinema” still essentially in its original form operated as a cinema in the UK!

I’m trying to find the requirements for a Dolby Cinema—a What Hi-Fi? article says that the “The minimum screen size necessary is about 14m, but seat-wise there’s no specific size an auditorium needs to be to qualify for renovation.”

Ian
Ian on August 18, 2018 at 2:58 pm

Erm, I would take issue with “ It is the last “super cinema” still essentially in its original form operated as a cinema in the UK!”

Granted stage entertainments take priority over film at such venues as the Plaza Stockport, but the Rex Berkhamsted; Odyssey (Odeon) St Albans; Rio Dalston; Curzon Mayfair; Picture House Hebden Bridge; Tyneside Newcastle; Picture House Campbeltown; and probably several others can lay claim to being a super-cinema still operating “essentially in its original form”. There is life outside London!

Hyperbole is not helpful.

CF100
CF100 on August 18, 2018 at 3:53 pm

Sorry Ian! :–(

Just getting over-excited… (and I’m afraid mid-Hampshire is about as far out of London that I’ve got this year.) I would have thought the new information on the OLS refurb would be received as very good news here?

vindanpar
vindanpar on August 18, 2018 at 4:03 pm

Ken Roe, interesting about the Astoria getting a new large screen in ‘65 because on its page it says after the successful run of Half a Sixpence through much of '68 the theater was then gutted and remodeled for the 70mm CCBB. Sixpence was Panavision.

I still find 46 ft incredibly small for major first run showings of SOM and SP in the huge Dominion. I would have been very disappointed. But these must hold the record for the longest movie runs in the world. Anybody know of any films that played longer elsewhere? Rocky Horror midnight shows do not count.

terry
terry on August 18, 2018 at 10:00 pm

I refer to Ian’s comment re ‘Super Cinemas’ still in their original form.

The term was used in the 1930’s in reference to (then) modern very large capacity cinemas usually with full stage facilities, Wurlitzer or Compton organs and restaurants as additional incentives to visit.

Whilst there is no dispute re OLS in this regard – and it is indeed the very last such venue operating exclusively or primarily as a cinema – examples quoted such as the Rio Dalston, Picture-House, Hebden Bridge and, in particular, The Tyneside, Newcastle were never , and are not, ‘Super Cinemas’.

They may be, in their particular areas, the nearest one can get to ‘Super Cinemas’ simply because they have survived – but ‘Super’,in accordance with the original term, they are certainly not.

The Tyneside, in particular, was a News Theatre and at its largest was a mere 412 capacity. These days it is around the 200 mark .

Had the North East been particularly fortunate in retaining a ‘Super Cinema’ it would, without doubt, have been the Odeon (Paramount) , Newcastle Upon Tyne which was listed and then, very conveniently, de-listed.

Fortunately,currently undergoing restoration, is the next best ‘Super Cinema’, the ABC Globe, Stockton on Tees. At 2,429 seats,it was a ‘cat’s whisker’ behind the Odeon Newcastle which, prior to subdivision, had 2,458 seats. The Globe, I hasten to add, has a much deeper and better equipped stage and, for this reason in particular, is considered worthy of preservation.

Re the Odeon Leicester Square, I am delighted that its integrity is to be preserved, albeit at the expense of capacity. How strange it is that theatre- goers are still prepared to put up with 1930’s seating and spacing, but cinema patrons require much greater comfort and up to date configuration.

CF100
CF100 on August 19, 2018 at 6:03 am

Thank you Terry.

Great to hear about the ABC Globe restoration (which I wasn’t aware of), and fascinating to watch the videos that you linked to on its Cinema Treasures page.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on August 19, 2018 at 6:45 am

As Terry says “at the expense of capacity” I’ve been in awe of this theater partly because when looking around in the auditorium at a full house for various films like James Bond, special events, and other sold out films, there were hundreds- 1700 or so, filmgoers! Now the capacity will be severely shrunk though I haven’t read a total number. I hope films will be properly masked & the curtain used, as it was before AMC acquired Odeon.

LARGE_screen_format
LARGE_screen_format on August 19, 2018 at 7:28 am

Was looking through some old 35mm photos and stumbled across some exterior shots of Odeon, Leicester Square whilst Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was being shown during Summer 1999. Across the front foyer glass doors, it stated “Europe’s Largest Cinema”. There was a huge photo of Darth Maul attached to the tower which was eye-catching.

CF100
CF100 on August 19, 2018 at 8:27 am

New seating capacity (as I counted on the licensing plans)–

Royal Circle: 90 (recliner) + 2 disabled. Circle: 446. Stalls: 258 (recliner) + 4 disabled.

Total = 794 + 6 disabled.


Looking at the licensing plans, the stalls have steps up to each of the last three rows. Revisiting the old cross-sectional drawing, it’s clear that these are needed to raise up the new rear of the stalls to entrance foyer level.

It is also obvious from the cross-sectional drawing that the revised stalls seating obviates the rear stalls sightline issue, where for the very rear seats the balcony only just avoided obscuring the top of the screen. Presumably a 1.9:1 screen (~25ft. high) could now be installed.


With the screen (at least according to the licensing plans!) moved slightly forward, all of the “recliner” seats will be within, by my estimates, 1.5x screen distance away from the screen. If not “IMAX” standard, this is still sort of in line with what Odeon brands as “immersive” for their iSense auditoria.


LARGE_screen_format: Certainly have been many spectaculars attached to the OLS over the years! IIRC “Europe’s Premiere Cinema” was written across the main doors from LSQ right up until it was closed for refurbishment; it’s certainly still there in the October 2017 dated Google Streetview shot. I guess it must have been changed from “Europe’s Largest Cinema” at some point?

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