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 £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!

Contributed by Steffan Laugharne, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 218 comments)

Mike_Blakemore on June 5, 2017 at 8:16 pm

Hmm The First 7 Cinemas of what became The Odeon Circuit from Kingstanding onwards was really owned by Clifton of Birmingham . Sir Sidney Clift a Birmingham Solicitor appointed Deutch as Chair in Place of Leon Salberg of the Alexandra Theatre Birmingham who was dying. Clift being a practicing Solicitor it was not the done thing to do.. All Built Odeon had a large Clifton Syndicate presence, It must be remembered That Deutch and his wife Lillie had only 200 shares between them in each project.. Lillie ran a theatre furnishings company with Clift that supplied both Clifton’s and Odeons and that why they looked the same. J. Arthur Rank only purchased Deutch’s shares in the Management company in 1942.. 1947 Rank promoted shares in Odeon properties Ltd., During 1948 the complex process of buying out and share swapping took place. The share rights were offered to shareholders of the individual Odeon projects The Odeon Circuit history is very complex and not what it seems.. The Architects Clevering and Mather were also associates of Satchwell and Roberts Architects of Birmingham.. They created the Odeon Look. Not Weedon. Andrew Mather solely designed Odeon Leicester Square. Harry Weedon’s job was to manage the projects and produce the budget for the share holder prospectus’s

CF100 on June 7, 2017 at 11:18 am

The planning permission for the replacement roof over the OLS was granted on 1 October 2014 and work must commence within 3 years of this decision or Odeon will need to go through the applications process again.

Whilst this is a “rubber stamp” matter, no subsequent planning application is shown on Westminster’s planning applications database.

If the refurbishment is to be started this year, then it seems likely that it will happen before October.

CF100 on June 7, 2017 at 11:30 am

moviebuff82—Regarding increased security, I attended a preview screening at VUE Westfield London (Shepherd’s Bush) yesterday and they were doing bag checks.

Of course this is “security theatre” not least since there is no such screening in the foyer nor for the mall’s very large atrium area adjacent… etc.

It seems that VUE Westfield London do have infra-red CCTV in the auditoria with live videos of such being fairly prominently displayed at the corridor entrance leading to the auditoria.

CF100 on June 7, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Mike Blakemore: As I’ve mentioned on this site before, my Father was an architect (Project Architect on numerous multi-million pound commercial buildings including in the entertainment/leisure sector) and, at a distance, just who in a practice was responsible for what is frequently unclear.

The RIBA published a book on a practice he had worked for—he had been involved with the design of one of the buildings therein but his name was misspelt (!) and his colleague with whom he had worked on the project was not mentioned. There were numerous other errors, too.

There are many other factors but suffice to say, whilst “house styles” of cinema chains and architectural practices are sometimes evident, I would be cautious over trying to assign credit. I suspect your complex history is in reality somewhat more involved!

CF100 on June 7, 2017 at 12:11 pm

FanaticalAboutOdeon—I agree with your comments on the “streamline moderne” Odeons. That “house style” is, to this day, respected and iconic for good reason.

My personal opinion on “ornate” fibrous plaster modellings is a very negative one indeed!

I will add, though, that many of the Odeons were subject to very poor subdivisions, and particularly those later under the control of the likes Coronet were subject to very poor maintenance, with auditoriums badly repainted, etc.

CF100 on June 7, 2017 at 1:25 pm

rasLXR—Indeed white is not ideal but I’m not sure how this could be changed without seriously compromising the design? “Low reflectivity” specialist paint in a slightly off-white colour? Thinking about it, the splay walls should really all covered in white stretched fabric over acoustic absorption…

Regarding black, many “black box” auditoria with wall-to-wall screens fail in my view as one always feels as though one is in a cinema watching a screen hemmed in by the side walls and ceiling, instead of a “view into” another world.

FanaticalAboutOdeon on June 10, 2017 at 2:07 pm

CF100, The “drop wall” subdivision of most Odeons, and many other circuits' halls, was indeed poor. The “minis” thereby created in the rear stalls area were usually less than ideal and such conversions in the busier Odeons where the balcony was extended forward to maximise capacity seriously compromised the architectural integrity of what became Screen One. This and those situations where the roof of one or both minis protruded beyond the balcony front was disastrous for original schemes. York’s balcony extension caused the splay wall decorative grille work to be removed and replaced by ugly “functional” air conditioning units at a higher level and the additional barriers and exit signs forward, insisted on by the local council, meant the actual picture size had to be reduced in order to be seen from all seats. Barnet’s larger minis gave those upstairs in Screen One the impression they were watching the film over a cliff top. Sadly, many more examples of both and other conversion problems like the acoustic effect of leaving the front stalls as a void and creating a large emptiness between audience and image.

The very expensive twinning and tripling of both Odeon and ABC “key” city centre cinemas was, by contrast, very successful in creating two or three relatively spacious and very comfortable, totally separate modern cinemas which had ambience and atmosphere of their own. This costly standard of conversion work could not be carried out “across the board” due to both the enormous expense and, in many cases, spatial constraints.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and even including 70mm. facilities in the “key” location conversions was done at the same time as fewer and fewer films were being made in the format. Further subdivision of all Odeons where extra screens could be shoehorned in, made sense to accountants and, undeniably offered more choice to the cinemagoer while, unfortunately, spreading the impression that cinemas were getting smaller and “just not the same anymore”. It was all an uncomfortable transition towards building our own multiplexes as choice simply had to be offered when the number of cinema buildings had dwindled.

CF100 on June 19, 2017 at 1:16 am

FanaticalAboutOdeon: A comprehensive conversion could of course not be justified in all cases, but at the same time, too many were clearly very inexpensive and were also ill-thought out.

For example, this one:

Odeon Harlow – “Urban Exploration” photo

I cannot see any purpose in the rear “corridor” seats, other than to frustrate those patrons with no other seating option given a full house, nor the two rear surround speakers on the “corridor” sidewalls.

(Maybe I am rather naive about the “purpose” of the rear seats, as this could be ideal for those wishing to engage in activities other than watching the feature?!)

This is perhaps an extreme example, but there were too many which ended up with odd seating arrangements, off-centre projection and screens angled away from the seating.

Combined with poor quality interiors the overall impression was of a “fleapit.”

More recently, many of those less than ideal conversions which still exist have, at least, been refurbished to at least provide reasonable interiors.

CF100 on June 19, 2017 at 1:29 am

Correction to my previous post on the planning permission timeframe for the replacement roof: The respective building control entry on Westminster Council’s website notes that this has been completed. Having a look at Google Earth (i.e. the full-featured PC software rather than http://maps.google.com/) and comparing to “historical imagery,” the clearly “patched” appearance is no longer there, and so this would appear to be the case.

davepring on July 7, 2017 at 6:08 pm

Dunkirk to be presented in 70mm here later this month

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