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!

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 282 comments)

CF100
CF100 on November 24, 2017 at 7:32 am

vindarpar: Exactly—the last remaining full size super cinema in the UK still operated as such. It is not the greatest cinema ever built aesthetically, most certainly not technically (e.g. auditorium geometry) or even in terms of brute size, but it is an impressive iconic flagship venue frequently used for premieres, and, although constrained by the limitations of the auditorium, picture/sound is always excellent.

Not to mention 70mm capability for those who wish to see celluoid projected (not me!), and to hear the Compton organ on occasion (count me in!)

As such, if you want the special ambience of a real super cinema*, it’s the only option (or rather “The First Choice”!) in town—and that’s why the details of Odeon’s plans are so very important.

I’ll never forget my first visit; the auditorium was full and I ended up with a terrible seat in the very rear stalls. At the end of the feature I walked to the front stalls, looked up towards the rear, and nearly had to pick my jaw up off the floor.

(*In a very specific sense—the BFI IMAX could also be described as a “super cinema,” for instance.)

CF100
CF100 on November 24, 2017 at 6:06 pm

FanaticalAboutOdeon: I assume you have seen the planning permission documents? If not, I put up links to them in September.

As I noted then, auditorium plans are not included; however, the last few rows of the circle can be seen in the “Plans as Proposed” document, and they do not appear to be re-stepped but the seats are wider and the central aisle removed.

I imagine, then, that the reclining seats to which you refer will be in the “Royal Circle” area?

Now if only details of the auditorium were available…

On the reclining seats:

AMC Theatres Begins Implementing Its Recliner-Renovation Rollout Strategy in the United Kingdom

To quote:

“‘One of the key benefits of adding ODEON theatres to the AMC portfolio in the fourth quarter of 2016 stems from our ability to deliver AMC’s amazing and innovative guest experience to moviegoers in Europe. Theatre renovations in Europe will introduce proven guest amenities like plush power recliners, enhanced food and beverages and premium sight and sound experiences,’ said Adam Aron, CEO and President of AMC.”

AMC’s “amazing” and “innovative” guest experiences? Excuse me while I wash my mouth out!

CF100
CF100 on November 25, 2017 at 4:10 pm

FanaticalAboutOdeon: Many thanks for the details on the coloured reflector tungsten ES bulbs. I’m surprised that they were used at all!

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on December 10, 2017 at 5:35 am

CF100 Odeon Leicester Square foyer and circle lounge pre. 1998’s refurbishment and rebranding.

The 1987 refurbishment retained much of 1967’s modernisation scheme but softened the overall treatment of public areas and lent a 1930s flavour to what had been a typical ‘60s blandness.

In 1967, the foyer ceiling gave the impression of broken glass – actually many aluminium “shards” of varying shapes and sizes and set at different angles. These were cleverly lit by a row of Strand Electric pattern 23 profile spotlights housed above the entrance doors in what was a miniature version of the spotlight housing on the front of the circle in the auditorium. The spots were angled slightly upwards and focussed on the reflective ceiling treatment. The result was to throw numerous reflected “pieces” of light around the walls and across the carpet. The spotlights were wired in several circuits (each a different colour) which would continually fade up and down automatically giving a constantly changing effect. The carpeting throughout public areas at this time had an overall pattern of red, blue and yellow angular shapes and foyer walls were covered in a plain, dark wood/wood effect (later covered in a red fabric which resembled suede). In 1987’s revamp, the ‘60s ceiling survived but the spotlights were realigned to illuminate a metallic coat of arms which was mounted above the central sales kiosk between the two sets of doors leading to the stalls. At about this time, the automatic fading of the spotlights was discontinued.

Below the 1967 sales kiosk counter was a floor to counter section of white tiling which was lit pale blue by lights concealed inside the counter fascia. This feature was retained in 1987 but the lighting became pink. 1967’s large island pay box was removed prior to 1987, all tickets now being sold from box office windows to either side of the vestibule between the two sets of entrance doors and at right angles to them.

One of the most striking of 1987’s changes was the new carpeting of both foyer and circle lounge. The new carpet bore a huge art deco design almost the size of the entire foyer floor, featuring sweeping shapes in pink, pastel blue and fawn edged in thin black lines. Both upstairs and down, the beautiful designs were surrounded by a dark blue border with a subtle recurring motif of small strands of pink, pastel blue and fawn and this design was used for all other carpeting of public areas including the auditorium. The custom carpet must have cost a fortune yet was removed just eleven years later in 1998.

1967 gave us a plain, light grey circle lounge ceiling with three large, square areas containing suspended silver coloured metallic strips light from above in a slowly changing sequence of pink, pale blue and yellow. Two of the three lighting features were above the lounge itself while the third was above the central staircase from the foyer and, in this one, the metallic strips gradually became longer towards the centre. These lights were retained in 1987 but the colours were no longer changed and were a steady pale blue.

1987 saw the exterior lightbox lifted to a much higher position enabling daylight to enter the circle lounge through large, plain windows from roughly waist height. The windows spanned the width of the lounge and were fitted with Italian blinds in pale pink which were almost always left in the raised/open position. The windows enabled the lounge lighting to be seen from outside and panoramic views of the square to be enjoyed from within. Perhaps these windows, themselves a throwback to the theatre’s 1937 windows, inspired the bolder all-over glazing we have at present. Two modern licenced bar serving apertures had been created opposite the tops of the staircases in the lounge in 1967 and twenty years later these were replaced by a larger counter and a ‘30s style uplighter at the inner end. The 1967 cloakroom counter between the two sets of doors to the circle became a sales counter/coffee bar in 1987 or thereabouts.

Numerous white downlighters were also set into the ceilings of both these large public areas.

I would have liked the 1987 scheme – including the auditorium, perhaps minus the splay walls' neon – to have lasted longer as, overall, I think it suited the Odeon well whereas 1998’s changes owe much to the multiplex era and this theatre is no multiplex! We must await the results of what is going to be the most radical refurbishment yet, in 2018.

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on December 10, 2017 at 3:46 pm

CF100,

Not sure of the extent of the reclining seats. Losing the rear circle’s centre aisle will compensate somewhat for wider seats impact on capacity. The entire balcony was restepped and leg room increased some years ago (well after 1998)and this reduced the overall capacity by some 300 seats.

Zappomatic
Zappomatic on January 9, 2018 at 5:30 am

Today is Odeon Leicester Square’s last day before closing for refurbishment. Kind of surprised they’re not keeping the Studios open as they’re pretty much self contained and were refurbished fairly recently. With Cineworld also closed, Vue must be rubbing their hands with glee at a whole month without any competition on the square (nearby Odeon Luxe Haymarket and Empire Haymarket notwithstanding)!

Ian
Ian on January 11, 2018 at 1:10 am

I was in Leicester Square last night 10th January) and the Odeon was hosting the European Premiere of “The Post” – not sure if this was for one night only or not.

CF100
CF100 on January 11, 2018 at 1:33 pm

Ian: I, too, was in Leicester Square last night and “noticed” the premiere—(poor quality) photo uploaded.

According to Odeon’s site, it is now closed.

This means that there is NO cinema with a Leicester Square address operating at present—I assume for the first time since WWII?!

CF100
CF100 on January 12, 2018 at 4:33 pm

Zappomatic: The ground floor foyer will be “connected” to the Studios, and frontage alterations will encompass the Studios part of the building also, including new doors, removal of the “Odeon Studios” sign, etc.

See planning application 17/07604/FULL, “Elevations Proposed” and “Plans as Proposed.”

CF100
CF100 on January 12, 2018 at 4:34 pm

FanaticalAboutOdeon: Thank you very much for your detailed descriptions of the OLS foyer pre-1998. My reply is still pending!

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