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 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 298 comments)

Zappomatic on February 2, 2018 at 5:19 pm

The leopard print seats are now on sale on eBay from a seller called old2gold – yours for £90 a pair.

CF100 on February 3, 2018 at 1:24 am

Zappomatic: Thanks! Can’t find them. Link please?

Zappomatic on February 3, 2018 at 2:52 am


Various quantities and configurations on there from the seller

CF100 on February 3, 2018 at 8:11 am

martinC: Odeon have stated that a new “large format” screen will be installed, and that the organ will be retained. The planning applications for the updated facade/signage show a rendering with a large Dolby “Double-D logo” sign, implying that there will be a Dolby Cinema installation (i.e. Dolby Vision/HDR laser projection/specially graded content/Dolby Atmos), which would tie in with the “large format” update.

If they are going to install a larger screen, whilst keeping the organ, one option would be to alter the front splay walls to the proscenium, cutting them back, thus allowing for a screen width greater than 60ft., increased from the present 48ft. I posted a more detailed consideration of this, including sightlines.

Were the screen moveable, then the plans suggest that there is enough room horizontally. However, vertically, the old cut-away diagram has the “proscenium girder” marked and the fly tower behind.

Alternatively, the new screen could simply be installed ahead of the existing proscenium.

Hence, what’s possible all depends on the screen size/position and structural aspects, which may involve tradeoffs between what’s “kept” and what remains “usable”!

I can’t see how all aspects could be retained in their existing form, but presumably the front stage with organ console pit will remain.

CF100 on February 3, 2018 at 9:11 am

Zappomatic: Brilliant, thank you again. My order is completed. Good job I have a Bissell wet vaccum with anti-bacterial cleaner!

PhilipWW on February 4, 2018 at 4:01 am

What is a “large format” screen ?

I sincerely hope it is a proper Scope screen. However I suspect that it is PR jargon for a 1.90 screen which will mean that all Scope films, the majority of films nowadays, will be letterboxed with no top/bottom masking. Hardly a step forward.

I hope I am wrong.

CF100 on February 4, 2018 at 9:13 am

Indeed the term “large format”—or rather “premium large format”—is marketing jargon, but I’d take it to mean an auditorium of at least medium size, with high end projection, large screen (relative to auditorium size, minimum say about 45ft. wide), and a capable sound system.

The most obvious example is IMAX Digital (typically 1.9:1) installations, which use IMAX’s own projection/sound system with automatic daily recalibration, etc., preferably meeting IMAX’s own standards for auditorium geometry.

Operators are free to brand any screen they like as “premium large format”—aka. IMPACT, iSense, Superscreen, XPlus, Xtreme, etc. In a decent non-IMAX one—e.g. the Superscreen at the Cineworld/Empire LSQ—you’d expect dual projectors, if not laser light source projection, 3D, and Atmos, as well as comfortable stadium seating, etc. As you suggest, many “premium large format”-branded screens are nearer 1.9:1 than “Scope” ratio.

Dolby Cinema is clearly Dolby’s answer to IMAX.

I am not sure if Odeon used the term “large format”—from a Variety article:

“Aron told reporters that the Odeon would certainly have a giant screen, ‘but it won’t be IMAX,’ in order to avoid competing with IMAX’s laser theater in the neighboring Cineworld Empire Leicester Square. Odeon has its own proprietary premium large-screen format, iSense, though it was not confirmed if this would be the format used at the Leicester Square venue.”

Assuming the OLS will be a Dolby Cinema venue, AFAIK it is supposed to be a “constant height” system, so “Scope” movies won’t be letterboxed. That said, as there are no Dolby Cinema venues in the UK to date, it’s not something I’ve paid much attention to.

Lack of masking won’t be that much of a problem with laser light source projection. Having said that, the OLS auditorium is most definitely not black, which might negatively impact the contrast ratio as light makes its way back to the screen.

Of course, one might wonder whether the OLS will retain celluoid projection—and tabs?

CF100 on February 4, 2018 at 9:32 am

The building control application for the OLS works (“Refurbishment of Cinema Complex – Odeon") is shown on Westminster’s site, received on the 3rd January 2018. No further information of interest is available.

On the subject of the Safety Curtain, a comment from the Cinema Theatre Association has now been added to the documents for the main planning application, listed as “CINEMA THEATRE ASSOCIATION LATE REP.” It enquires about the safety curtain, to which Westminster’s case officer responds:

“In respect of the pictorial safety curtain, given that the building is not listed alterations to the interior would not be subject to planning control.


“It may be of some comfort that I recall from meetings with the applicant’s design team that they did stress how it was their intention to refurbish and retain historic features where possible…”

moviebuff82 on February 4, 2018 at 10:22 am

When will it reopen?

CF100 on February 5, 2018 at 3:41 am

moviebuff82: According to FanaticalAboutOdeon, the works will take 9 months.

Having briefly looked at the plans and cut-away drawing again, and with the “giant screen” quote in my head, I’m thinking Odeon could go much further with this scheme than I had envisaged—with a screen closer to 90ft. wide, for which at “Scope” ratio there should be sufficient height. Naturally, this would involve very significant alterations to the stage end of the auditorium.

As with my previous suggestion, the sightlines from the rear stalls would mean that the last few rows would have to be dropped.

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