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 239 comments)

Lionel on September 6, 2017 at 7:53 pm

Dear CF100,

I should say that you are insane for the time you spent calculating how the OLS should be reconfigured to be perfect, or at least a premium venue according to the latest specs. I don’t blame you and I understand your passion, as I spent quite some time myself during work hours yesterday, figuring out how the 4-screen cinema in the former Swiss Centre should have been built to be satisfactory (including slope angle, row depth and required centimeters between screen and walls for tabs and curtains to open ideally) instead of being this horrible place everyone seems to describe.

There must be a psychiatrist in London taking care of theatrical disorders. Who knows, he may perhaps do rebates for groups, so next time I’m in London, I suggest those of us who are in that kind of addiction seek counselling.

Damn, I suddenly hate my dad (a former theatre manager) for transmitting his passion for cinema to me when I was a kid. It’s worse than alcohol and cocaine combined.

CF100 on September 7, 2017 at 12:38 am

Hello Lionel,

You are absolutely right, I felt guilty whilst doing it knowing that I had “more important” matters to attend to.

I couldn’t help myself, once I started thinking about it I felt compelled to figure it all out as far as I could! :–( On the face of it, it has almost no practical value whatsoever other than satisfying my own curiosity—and it is, I hope, of interest to anyone who bothers to read my ramblings—although they might equally well wish that I would shut up!

The best cinemas for me are a more “magical” environment than anywhere else. Very little can touch them in terms of the special feeling I get from them.

For better or worse, the engineering side of my brain wants to know “how and why it works,” so I always end up “pulling things apart” to find out.

Whether my “cinema obsession” actually makes any sense… hmm. I enjoy it, but I do drive myself nuts at times. Few people “get it” so, maybe I should find a “normal hobby” like following football! :-O However, I consider the intense interest in watching a ball being kicked around a field for 90 minutes, hoping that it will eventually make its way into the “right” net, and the tribe-like devotion to football teams, to be somewhat “insane”! (My apologies to football fans…)

As for these 60s/70s mini-cinemas like the Odeon Wardour St./Swiss Centre—I find the auditoriums very strange. Yes, there were lots of constraints but why should they result in odd shaped auditoria with such small screens? I think we can do better today with “boothless” digital projection. A small auditorium can be a comfortable and intimate environment; a good experience if the design, decor, seating layout, screen size/position and sound system are right.

BTW, (if anyone is “crazy” enough to want to read it!) you may be interested in a patent application (I’m not clear on whether the patent has been granted) by Thomas Anderson (Empire Cinemas etc.) relating to the design/geometry of small auditoria.

Now, where do I find the group hypnotherapy session to stop the “cinema obsession”…?

Lionel on September 8, 2017 at 5:46 am

Of course I was crazy enough to read the patent application by Thomas Anderson for small auditoria. Or at least view the drawings which make me think that it’s done wrong for two reasons: the stadium seating is too steep and there isn’t enough space before the front row and the screen. Looks like Anderson thinks the IMAX auditorium shape, as it was done before the digital age, is suitable for every theatre. I ignore the address of the hypnotherapy session, but if it’s all about entering into a trance to free our normal self and face or dysfunctioning side, then lunch at Wong Kei will do ;–).

CF100 on September 9, 2017 at 3:51 am

Oh dear, trying to decipher patents is enough to make one crazy!

At least this one is quite specific and straightforward and most of the key information is in the short abstract at the start. One thing missing is the front row distance:

“a seat in the centre of the front row would be located is spaced apart perpendicularly from the screen a distance not less than 0.3 times the width of the auditorium adjacent the front wall”

This is exactly what Fig. 3 shows.

I am interested in why you think a close front row and steep raking is not suitable in particular for a small auditorium?

BTW, a strange story loosely related to this: A couple of years ago, I had booked seats in Empire Leicester Square Screen 7 to attend a midday screening for myself and a friend. On entering the auditorium, I stopped at the front pondering where to sit, saying to my friend that the front row seats I’d booked seem to be too close to the screen.

Sitting in a middle row was an Irish gentlemen, formally dressed IIRC, who said, “No no no… don’t sit there… sit at the back. There will only be a few in…”

It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I can’t help but wonder if the gentlemen wasn’t Thomas Anderson himself!

Lunch at Wong Kei, eating therapy for cinema obsessions (!), sounds good to me. ;–)

moviebuff82 on September 9, 2017 at 8:58 pm

Is this theater the busiest in Europe as the AMC Empire 25 is the busiest in North America?

Zappomatic on September 9, 2017 at 9:36 pm

moviebuff82: No. Not sure what the busiest in Europe is but in the UK the highest grossing cinema is Vue Westfield London.

CF100 on September 11, 2017 at 6:16 pm

According to Vue’s website, Vue Westfield London and Vue Westfield Stratford City are the 1st and 3rd highest grossing cinemas in the UK. I wonder what’s the 2nd—is there a list somewhere?

They are both a few miles from the edge of Central London and can easily be accessed by tube from there. Vue Westfield London is probably about as close to the West End as a 20 screen “megaplex” will ever be built!

They are both listed as flagship sites by Vue but IMO Vue Westfield London is very much a run of the mill multiplex.

FanaticalAboutOdeon on October 7, 2017 at 1:45 pm

The legend, “FANATICAL ABOUT FILM” has been removed from the canopy fascia of Odeon Leicester Square and both the wording and its somewhat skeletal font – one of two created/adopted as part of the 1998 rebranding of the circuit – is being replaced by a less formal looking style of lettering in physical and online advertising, letterheads and buildings signage. This was an aspect of the recent “refreshing” of the circuit’s branding.

FanaticalAboutOdeon on October 7, 2017 at 2:01 pm

OLS is unique in having both white and silver screens to provide the best possible screen surface for both 2D and 3D product. The screen speakers are mounted on wheeled trolleys and are thus common to both screens; the 2D screen frame can be wheeled to the rear stage area when the 3D screen and frame are in use as these are both stored in the theatre’s fly tower above the stage and are simply lowered into position when required. Any movement of the screen forward of the proscenium arch would, of course, preclude the facility.

CF100 on October 7, 2017 at 11:44 pm

FanaticalAboutOdeon: Bring back “The First Choice”!

Regarding the separate 3D screen, as I mentioned in a previous post, the proposed facade has a large Dolby “Double-D” logo prominently positioned above the balcony, suggesting the refurbished cinema will feature a Dolby Cinema installation.

Dolby’s 3D system uses spectral filtering (i.e. slightly different red/green/blue wavelength for each eye, with the wavelength for the other eye filtered by the 3D glasses) rather than polarisation, thus obviating the need for the (polarisation preserving) silver screen.

(I hadn’t thought about this until I replied to your post…!)

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