Odeon Leicester Square

26 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7LQ

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FanaticalAboutOdeon on September 30, 2015 at 4:25 pm

“Toy Story 2” was the first “film” to be shown digitally to the public in the U.K. at Odeon Leicester Square in 1999. For several years thereafter, during the transition, the Odeon’s Cinemeccanica Victoria 8 35/70 projectors and the new digital projector stood shoulder to shoulder in the theatre’s projection room and presentations in both technologies were screened as, gradually, more and more titles were released in the new format. “Quantum of Solace” at OLH was digital and, some years ago, Odeon Cinemas donated one of the Odeon’s two film projectors to the Projected Picture Trust. OLH retains the ability to show 35mm and 70mm product as well as digital. “Interstellar” was screened there in 70mm.

HowardBHaas on September 30, 2015 at 2:33 pm

What year were most movies shown in digital in the main theater? In 2010, I saw Made in Dagenham in digital but what about 2009 Quantum of Solace? digital or 35mmm?

FanaticalAboutOdeon on June 23, 2015 at 6:32 am

CF100 – I think the golden ladies were indeed probably considered the “jewel in the crown” of 1998’s revamp. I was told that, in the event, the £3.5 million budget turned out to be insufficient to include their creation and installation so some of Odeon Holloway’s “rebranding” budget was taken to ensure their presence. If the replicated figures have an Achilles' heel, it is the mountings against which they fly. The grain of the woodwork in the 1937 treatment looked superb and flowed beautifully whereas the recreated background, which contains the fibre-optic terminals nearest the proscenium, appears to be several sections of wood-effect formica or similar which is nowhere near as pleasing to the eye. The profile spots which pick out the new figures are, at present, unfiltered, open white and if they were to be filtered with a pastel gel (like, e.g. pale salmon)the inevitable dust would be much less obvious and the background panels would perhaps look warmer and nicer. Overall, the reinstated figures do work for me as a nod to the theatre’s more spectacular past. The present golden ladies are actually the third set to appear in the Odeon. During the late ‘80s/early '90s, the theatre played host to annual “tribute” events, each honouring a particular film star (Julie Andrews and Sean Connery were two so honoured). These shows, organised by BAFTA, were held in the presence of a member of the royal family who would be seated in the second row of the stalls (the first having been removed). At the evening’s conclusion, the star would descend a special, shallow staircase from apron to stalls floor, to be presented with a BAFTA award for their contribution to the industry. A spectacular show with dancers and on-stage orchestra (using the stage and pit floor in apron mode) would be followed by the celebrity concerned giving a talk about their career from a lectern to audience right. Excerpts from some of their films were screened on a square, suspended, central screen (the cinema screen and both sets of curtains having been flown out of sight for the event). Standing at either side of the stage, at a slight inward angle so, half inside and half outside the proscenium, were large set pieces which were replications of both the original “sunburst”, illuminated, curved glass splay wall sections and the golden ladies themselves. Although I only saw the shows on TV, the large features, including the ladies, looked the equal in scale to their inspirations. I, for one, would love to know where they ended up and presume they would belong to BAFTA.

The 1968 ceiling treatment of both foyer and circle lounge survived for thirty years. Both ceilings were unusual and I will attempt to describe them.

The foyer received a flat, suspended ceiling, itself having a shallow, metallic suspended rectangular feature which covered the new ceiling except for a narrow strip around all four sides. The feature was composed of randomly arranged, angular facets of shiny metal. Above the vestibule and the length of the entrance was a lighting box (almost a miniature version of the one on the balcony front) in which were housed numerous Strand Electric pattern 23 profile spots. The lanterns were filtered in various colours of Cinemoid gel and were controlled by an automatic system which would bring up and fade out different sets of lanterns at different times. The lanterns were suspended from an internal bar and tilted slightly upwards, focussed on the ceiling feature. The installation was pretty well concealed, the lenses “peeping” through a series of elongated apertures above the inner entrance doors. The effect of all this was that all the reflective facets in the ceiling would glow and fade in sequence, different ones picking up different colours and, in turn, sending out little shards of coloured light onto the plain, wood-pannelled walls (which at some stage were covered in red suede) of the foyer. From the 1987 revamp, some of the lanterns were tilted down slightly and made to constantly highlight the coat of arms feature above the, then, centrally sited sales kiosk.

The circle lounge also received a suspended, flat ceiling with an overall grey “flaked” plaster treatment. Set into the otherwise plain ceiling were three, large, square openings – one above the staircase, the other two being evenly spaced above the lounge itself. These openings were filled with suspended, narrow, metal strips in square formations which diminished but became longer (and therefore lower) towards the centre. Each of these features had lights above them illuminating both the strips and the carpet below them. The lights were coloured red, amber and open white and the hues would slowly glow and fade in sequence. Other lighting around the lounge was by a number of discreet, white downlighters set into the ceiling. From, I suspect, around 1987 the colour-changing was no longer used and these features remained lit a somewhat steely, open white.

CF100 on June 21, 2015 at 7:02 pm

FanaticalAboutOdeon—Based on photos, I too would probably have considered the original interior to be somewhat over-bearing. However, the abruptness of the transition to the “flat” wall section, having seen photos of the original, doesn’t quite look right; still, the auditorium is very attractive and has become the OLS interior that we all know and love.

For me, the recreated “golden ladies”—aside from (my apologies to those who very much like them) that sort of feature not being to my taste—look rather “tacked on” and I would prefer something to better match the “streamlined” part of the auditorium. I suspect they are considered the “jewel in the crown” of the 1998 refurbishment, though, so without drastic changes to the OLS one may not expect to see them replaced!

I cannot remember the colour-changing lights in the circle lounge—come to think of it, nor can I recollect what the foyer and circle lounge looked like prior to the 1998 refurbishment—albeit nothing like photos I have seen of the original interiors. Whilst, as you say, the circle foyer lighting makes for an attractive feature from the (now other side!) of the square, the replacement metal signs did not seem to me to be a step up from the previous neon scheme.

The recently installed LED displays, though, are a most useful feature during premiere events.

Thank you for your updates on the proposed refurbishment, I await any further news with bated breath!

FanaticalAboutOdeon on June 19, 2015 at 2:35 am

CF100 – Unfortunately, I cannot trace the picture/s I have seen, online at some point, of the “rolling wave” treatment of the Odeon’s splay walls. Of the four schemes between the original decor and the present, recreated, “golden ladies”, the “rolling waves” was the treatment I preferred. I narrowly missed seeing the Odeon’s 1937 interior (as I did the Empire Theatre) and suspect I would have found the original scheme slightly over-fussy. The plain ceiling and walls forward of the first complete cove just ahead of the balcony front always looked attractive to my eyes and seemed to emphasize the “high, wide and handsome” nature of the auditorium. There has been much unfounded criticism, over the years, in which it was claimed e.g. “The golden ladies have been lost beneath plain plasterwork” and “The wall and ceiling coves have been covered over”. All of which was incorrect and undermined the observers' genuine regret that a much plainer scheme had replaced the much-loved original. It is perhaps the case that when I first saw the Odeon, at the opening of “Oliver!”, when the new scheme was still very new, its appearance then became the “definitive” one for me.

The ten coves above the circle lounge (created in 1998) were supposed to flood the room with ever-changing rainbow colours. In practice, the colour wheels over the fibre-optic light sources soon began to stick and the situation was worsened when access to the light sources for the two coves nearest the glazed frontage was permanently blocked off, hence those coves are now dark as the lamps have long since failed. As with the auditorium coves, the fibre-optic terminals (now all on open white) look best and glitter most from the opposite side of Leicester Square!

I have not heard any more about the postponed refurbishment other than it was likely to be put back about twelve months i.e. into the following financial year. I hope to be seeing some of my “Odeon” friends later in the year and will report back if I glean anything more concrete.

CF100 on June 18, 2015 at 8:31 pm

FanaticalAboutOdeon — Thank you once again for the fascinating info! Strange that the splay walls went through several changes over the years—only for the “flying ladies” to be returned; I shall have to seek out photos.

I, too, find the fibre optic scheme to be “muted”—but it does look OK, as you say, from the front stalls.

On the topic of the shelved refurbishment planned for this year, I just ran a search on Westminster Council’s Building Control Records, and there is an application from February 2015 for a “Refurbishment of Cinema” proposed to start in March 2015. However, the application status is “Withdrawn.” I assume no further news is forthcoming on this?

FanaticalAboutOdeon on June 17, 2015 at 12:35 am

CF100 – The “rolling wave” treatment was completely different to the neon installation. It covered a much larger area of the splay walls, beginning with a series of parallel, horizontal lines immediately forward of the balcony front. The maroon, grey and red “lines” grew in size towards the stage resembling “surfing” waves building and, finally, “toppling” into cloud-like shapes, the lowest and smallest of which reached the outer face of the proscenium arch’s corner. The waves were some three inches proud of the wall itself. Unlike the vertical, rising/fading neon features, the “rolling wave” scheme was static and incorporated no lighting, instead being spotlit from the three dedicated profile spots at both ends of the pageant box. The taller, much narrower, orange neon scheme was designed to echo the patterns appliqued onto the house curtains of the same period. At the same time, a single, pink light bulb was installed in the lowest socket of each cove on the side walls and the resultant warm glows, whilst not providing the stunning effect of the original scheme, produced a very pleasing and surprisingly art deco result and far more noticeable than the sophisticated fibre-optic 1998 scheme where the effect is barely visible except from the front rows of the stalls – looking back! There is at least one photo somewhere online of the rolling waves though I’ve never seen a picture of the short-lived “Funny Lady” designs which preceded them.

CF100 on June 16, 2015 at 4:34 pm

FantaticalAboutOdeon—Thank you for the fascinating information on the post-“zing” interior. It would be most interesting to see photos!

The “rolling wave” design was not the same as the 1987 neon splay wall feature?

On the subject of its exterior, as I posted above, I recall a “patch up” job on part of the facade. This, I think, is visible in this photo; however, it now seems to be largely covered by the smaller LED displays positioned either side of the balcony.

Its impressive and imposing facade is, in peak season, invariably photographed by tourists.

FanaticalAboutOdeon on June 15, 2015 at 8:50 am

CF100 – Better late than never! Following the 1968 “zing” treatment, by Trevor and Mavis Stone, the splay walls were completely blank. Three profile spots, housed at either end of the pageant box on the balcony front, projected three spheres of light onto the opposite wall, they were filtered red, bright blue and medium amber, the three images overlapping in the centre. During the early ‘70s, an art deco, predominantly vertical, design was painted on the splay walls in maroon, red and pink. It looked like something between a high blancmange and a fountain and, if my memory serves me correctly, first appeared at the Royal Film Performance of “Funny Lady”. These flat designs were shortly replaced with abstract, rolling wave designs in maroon and grey. They were slightly raised from the walls and lit pink by the profile spots mentioned earlier. Given the two-toned red and pink panelled velvet house tabs from 1968, the wave-like shapes actually fitted in well and, like the flying ladies before them, directed the eye towards the screen. These were taken down in 1998 and replaced by the replica flying ladies.

Noodle 2510 – With regard to the Aberdeen granite black tiles on the facade and tower, these were both cleaned and polished during the 1998 reconstruction of the frontage although, for some reason, those at right angles to the theatre’s frontage were untouched. Black was chosen originally to emphasize the red neon outlining during hours of darkness. Now the theatre’s profile is once again outlined – in indigo blue – the effect of the upper building virtually disappearing within its neon halo impresses once more. Unfortunately, black granite does not weather well aesthetically, showing every spot of bird poo and city grime. I don’t think the overall covering of vinyl for the runs of “Mamma Mia!” (white) and “The Boat That Rocked” (red) helped with the appearance of the granite once the adhesive fabric was stripped off – perhaps leaving the surface more prone to staining.

CF100 on June 15, 2015 at 7:02 am

Can’t increase screen size without closing rear stalls due to sightlines… Reconfiguration to compete is urgent IMO…

IIRC the facade had a bit of a “patch up” job during the late 1990’s works.

Noodle2510 on June 14, 2015 at 5:03 pm

They must increase the screen size as the current size is inadequate vs the auditorium size…and keep the prices down as they are becoming vastly overpriced ..and do something with the external black facade as it looks an absolute state….

CF100 on May 30, 2015 at 2:32 pm

FanaticalAboutOdeon, thanks for the reply. A shame so few images of the house curtains are available, but the “replica” pair do add that special touch to your home cinema—very nice! What was on the splay walls after the 1960’s “zing” alterations?

Seems the Odeon LS has an uncertain future, perhaps? I noticed in Cinema Technology Magazine that the new “MK Dons” Odeon is said to be their “flagship” site. In the meantime, as you say, still a wonderful place to watch a film…

rasLXR on March 14, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Yes not much presence in the West End for Odeon when I started with them they had Odeon L Sq, Haymarket, St Martins Lane, Marble Arch, Kensington, Chelsea, Westbourne Grove, Swiss Cottage, Dominion Tott Crt Rd, the Astoria had just opened Elvis show, Metropole and New Victoria had gone.

FanaticalAboutOdeon on March 14, 2015 at 4:08 pm

CF100, Photographs of the 1987 house curtains with the three appliqued stripes terminating in vertical wavy lines towards the centre (and the orange neon stripes on the splay walls which replicated the pattern) are scarce as hens' teeth I’m afraid. I do have a faded copy of a photo' of those tabs taken during an organ concert and they can be seen opening and closing (as well as the neon installations rippling in and out) at the end of a DVD I have of numerous cinemas filmed by the late Tony Moss. I have a home cinema and when those tabs were in use, between 1987 and 1998, J. C. Joel, who produced them for Rank, also made a pair for me to the same specifications but for a 12' track. If you’d like to see mine, I’m on Flickr as “Fanatical about Odeon” and there is a shot of them in my photostream. I always liked the look of those tabs (hence having them in my Odeon) but thought the neon gimmicky. The design was typically art deco with a hint of arts and crafts which, to my mind, would have gone well with the restored flying ladies. Coincidentally, I’ve just spent most of today at the Odeon and I learned that the planned refurbishment has been postponed until early 2016. Things are quite fluid with the parent company (to float or sell?) at present and this may have had a bearing on the decision. With the Odeon West End finally gone and Marble Arch doomed, Odeon’s presence in the West End is now really a clutch of small complexes and the flagship. With “Spectre” and “Star Wars the Force Awakens” on the horizon, there is, at present, much for my favourite cinema to look forward to. They’re still putting on a good show and using screen masking and screen tabs (for 2D product)and when I watched “Marigold Hotel II” earlier, the ‘Scope image was stunning and the sound excellent.

CF100 on January 27, 2015 at 4:36 pm

Further thoughts on the (potential?) Atmos installation: the rear stalls don’t have enough height for the ceiling speakers. Also, might they be intending to become a “Dolby Cinema” location, which Dolby are promoting as an IMAX-competitor? (Laser projectors., HDR, etc…)

On a different topic, I recall before the 1998 refurbishment, when the “flying ladies” were recreated, there sections of red neon strips on the splay walls which mirrored the red pattern on the main tabs. I cannot find any photos or reference to this anywhere, although by then it looked terribly dated!

FanaticalAboutOdeon on January 18, 2015 at 4:42 pm

Yes, the main foyer did become rather bare and chilly. The 1998 revamp/rebranding included illuminated friezes around the new entrance to the stalls and the sales counter, projected signs for stalls and circle and Optikinetics projected version of Odeon clock. Also installed, and still there, above the entrance doors was a Miniscan effects projector which originally panned the new style name across the floor and walls. The coloured, cold cathode lighting for the friezes and various projected images along with the fibre-optic illuminated circle stairs were principally the reasons for the plain, light treatment of the walls and floor – it was meant to gleam and glitter with so many different reflected lights. Unfortunately, all too soon several elements of the lighting scheme failed and repair/replacement proved difficult or impossible to carry out so only the stair lighting and STALLS sign remain today making the rest of the foyer somewhat drab. The ten parallel lighting coves above the circle lounge all originally changed colour through numerous beautiful hues. The light sources for the fibre-optic light cabling all had colour wheels attached to provide what was an eye-catching effect. Once again, with constant use, the colour wheels began to stick which spoilt the effect and the light sources (in some very difficult to access places)were switched to white. Sadly the sources for the three coves nearest the front of the theatre’s glazed frontage are now impossible to reach safely hence those coves remain dark.

The only attempts to recall the Odeon’s original splendour in the auditorium were the replicated golden ladies on the splay walls, fibre-optic lighting tails in the coving above the circle and around those ladies and the leopard skin design of the new seating. The seating was completely replaced some years back with more leopard skin upholstery except for the royal circle where the new seats were blue. It’s worth remembering the entire circle was expensively re-stepped to increase legroom early this century and much valuable capacity was lost in the process.

I hope the forthcoming refurbishment will retain the things which make the Odeon so special while restoring some of the warmth the public areas used to have.

Cjbx11 on January 18, 2015 at 4:07 pm

If the Odeon is being referbished I hope they improve the foyer area. I always thought it odd that when they had there last major refit in the late 90s they put so much effort into restoring the auditorium back to it’s origanal 1930s style while the foyer was turned into this ultra modern almost clinical style which I always found to be rather cold and unwelcoming.

CF100 on December 17, 2014 at 5:52 am

The above-linked BBC article states that “the tower of the OLS… still stands today… despite not being listed.”

This is, of course, true, but since Leicester Square is a conservation area, the frontage is afforded some protection. I suspect an OWE-like scheme for the OLS would go down like the Titanic.

CF100 on December 16, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Finally some good news after much speculation! I assume this means that the ‘Dutchess’ will be kept.

Not sure what there is to ‘expensively’ refurbish in the auditorium other than upgrading the seats—perhaps some carefully integrated elements to control the acoustics? I don’t understand how Dolby Atmos could be installed without eliminating the rear stalls. The only option I can see is to have two levels of side and ceiling speakers, with the lower level time aligned/delayed with the upper, and careful choice and positioning of the upper speakers. Still would seem to be an audio scrambled egg in the making!

I do hope the current bland foyer areas will be completely reimaged.

FanaticalAboutOdeon on December 16, 2014 at 2:07 am

The Odeon, Leicester Square is due to close in March for an expensive refurbishment during which Dolby Atmos sound system will be installed. There are no plans to sub-divide the auditorium which remains the West End’s sole remaining large cinema still offering its original configuration of stalls and circle. The Odeon’s seating capacity, reputation, position and celebrity are invaluably important to all major distributors. I’m already relishing the prospect of travelling two hundred miles to enjoy “Spectre” from an armchair in the theatre’s royal circle. The Leicester Square Theatre/Odeon West End will close in January to be demolished.

goodshow on December 14, 2014 at 6:43 am


Paul Stephenson
Paul Stephenson on November 23, 2014 at 3:19 am

Interesting Telegraph article about the 70mm presentation of Interstellar – their first 70mm since Armageddon in 1998

Interstellar: the secrets of the projection room

CF100 on October 27, 2014 at 5:01 pm

d8rren—Thanks for the reply. Can’t say I’d noticed that the screen was smaller but I do sit towards the front and 3D films are impressive.

On my last visit to Empire LS (a Wednesday evening) the foyer was quite busy. I’d imagine they get a reasonable number of customers in for their mini-screens. (Anyone seeing the ‘IMAX’ sign would be in for a shock, although I gather that those mini-screens are actually pretty good.)

London has now many modern local cinemas with large screens, but still, the BFI IMAX does well so some people are willing to make the trip and pay extra for something special.

Can’t work out the point of the 70mm ‘Interstellar’ screenings at the OLS when there are two other venues in London with 15/70 prints, but I suppose it’s not something to complain about!

d8rren on October 27, 2014 at 4:04 am

@ CF100 when showing a 3D film the curtains are not in use the screen seems to be about 1m smaller in the width

Empire LS is doing ok wouldn’t say its taking much more than it was before as always it will suffer from not having 1st pick of available titles

Interstellar opens 1 day early on the 6/11/14 & is showing in 70mm format in OLS & seems to be selling well

the days of sell out OLS and Empire are over most movie goers want to see their film as cheap as possible thats why every local cinema has some sold out showing on Orange Wednesdays & Empire & OLS will be luck to be a 3rd full if i want to see a film on a wednesday i go to the west end I’ve been in OLS when they have picked a dud with less than 20 people in there

CF100 on October 26, 2014 at 8:24 pm

Maybe the rumours are quite unfounded…

D8rren, any idea how the Empire LS is doing? How big is the smaller screen used for 3D screenings in the OLS?