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 195 comments)

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on April 16, 2017 at 6:28 am

Absolutely correct. This tired old brain was thinking of “Oklahoma!’s” next day’s transfer to the Metroplole in 70mm. after opening in 35mm. at the Odeon.

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on April 16, 2017 at 7:01 am

AMC have announced plans for their £10 to £15 million “total refurbishment” of the Odeon Leicester Square. C.E.O. of the new parent company, Adam Aron, revealed a detailed awareness of both the theatre and its “global importance within the industry”. Despite AMC being a huge operator of multiplexes, he says the Odeon’s size and traditional configuration are now unique in the West End and will be preserved and enhanced. I understand the organ was mentioned specifically and that the Odeon will retain a large screen (not IMAX to avoid competition with the Cineworld Empire across the Square – possibly Odeon’s own isense)whilst having a new sound system installed. Greater leg room is also planned and reclining seats (remember Empire One?). He acknowledged the number of refurbishments the Odeon has had over the years and promises that this one really will recover the iconic venue’s former glory. It’s early days of course and we’ve yet to see the finished product but it has to be positive news, given so many of us feared at least a degree of sub-division.

It also makes sense when the neighbouring five Odeon Studios, two subterranean Odeons in the former Leicester Square Theatre’s footprint, the four screen Odeon Panton Street (which just might go, I suspect) and four screen Odeon Covent Garden will give the Company an unparalleled film offer in the West End.

The reason for the huge gap of £5 million in the initial budget parameters is mostly down to plans being at a very early stage – don’t know which companies will be tendering for the works but AMC will be making further announcements when decisions are made.

Must be good news and that of a kind Oscar himself would welcome for his flagship.

Oops! “Oliver!” in 70mm. was in 1968 not 1971. Now, where’s that medication?

Ambak
Ambak on April 17, 2017 at 3:17 am

Sorry, Fanatical, you may need even more medication. When Oklahoma! was shown at the Odeon Leicester Square in the 35mm CinemaScope version, it was the European premiere on September 6th 1956 and the run was not a roadshow, it was continuous with four shows a day. After eight weeks (a long run at the time) it transferred to the Odeon Marble Arch for a further twelve weeks. The Todd-AO 30 fps version of Oklahoma! opened at the newly DP70 equipped Metropole on December 26th 1959, the first appearance in the UK of the 70mm version. This was a roadshow presentation (i.e. two shows a day, advance booking). It ran for a fairly modest ten weeks.

rasLXR
rasLXR on April 17, 2017 at 7:28 am

Hope they get shot of the awful white paint scheme. Years ago I had an orange edition of the BKTS manual white included advise on building new cinemas and said auditoriums should be painted with darker colour schemes I know black is an extreme but white?

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on April 17, 2017 at 1:42 pm

Since 1998, the foyer and circle lounge walls have been painted white. Along with the double-height glazing, various projected signs and raising of the circle lounge, the concept was apparently to create an impression of light and spaciousness but the result was chilly. The auditorium walls and ceiling were painted in soft grey in 1998 and this was to maximise the effect of the fibre optic lighting in the coving in splay walls, side walls and ceilings. Sadly the restored concealed lighting was never as effective as intended and the light sources were installed in the most inaccessible of nooks and crannies thus today very little of the scheme works. A great deal will change in the forthcoming refurbishment – hopefully for the better!

terry
terry on April 17, 2017 at 2:14 pm

I thought you must have passed away, James; your copious addenda here, however, suggest that you are in better health than I imagined which is indeed gratifying to learn…..

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on April 17, 2017 at 2:21 pm

Ambak, The medication’s gone in the bin! Really good to have the accurate details now. Ten weeks in 70mm. in Victoria was indeed modest, even after twenty in the West End/Marble Arch – especially as “South Pacific” in Todd-AO was still packing out the huge Dominion (even without the Upper Circle) after over a year by the time “Oklahoma!” was seen in 70mm.

I do recall that, even as late as the early ‘seventies, Rank regarded OLS more as a showcase for their weekly release films (naturally most ran for more than a week but programmes changed pretty regularly) than a roadshow house. As detailed above, charity openings,special events and premieres always punctuated the Odeon’s calendar but continuous performances outnumbered roadshows – I saw “Diamonds are Forever” there twice one Sunday in the mid 'seventies during its typically continuous policy. Even after the success of “Lawrence”, John Davis, our chairman, had never liked committing OLS to a “special season”, preferring these to occupy other Rank West End venues. When continuous performances finally ceased virtually everywhere, the OLS’s policy was normally to have Harlands of Hull’s “theatre style” advance booking tickets for specific seats at every performance but these were costly for such a high capacity and were soon restricted to evenings and weekends with Automatickets and unreserved seating for earlier performances.

terry
terry on April 18, 2017 at 10:43 am

Article in ‘Variety’ re proposed refurbishment:–

http://variety.com/2017/film/global/amc-to-undertake-major-refurbishment-of-odeon-leicester-square-1202028250/

I have to laugh at the manifest errors in journalism which are as prevalent ‘across the pond’ as in the UK, it would seem. I refer in particular to “The site houses an original Compton Organ from the silent era, known as “The Duchess……”

As the Odeon opened 10 years after the advent of the ‘talkies’, this reference to the famous Compton is risible, to say the least………

That apart, it is heartening to learn that this iconic theatre is not, after all, to endure the ‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’ inflicted on other surviving West End venues.

cultman1
cultman1 on April 18, 2017 at 10:45 am

when is the work likely to start?

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on April 18, 2017 at 12:49 pm

AMC have said the Odeon’s refurbishment/restoration is part of a renovation programme for all their European sites which will begin later this year. Given the plans and budget for OLS and the desire for it to be “…our number one site in Europe” and their statement “We are moving quickly”, suggests sooner rather than later though, understandably, no starting date has been announced.

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