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Odeon West End

40 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7LP

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Odeon West End

The Leicester Square Theatre was built for actor/film star Jack Buchanan and impresario Walter Gibbons. Jack Buchanan had a flat built on top of the theatre, which he occupied until it was damaged by bombing in late-October 1940.

Initially intended as a live theatre, there were problems acquiring adjacent properties and the stage space proved insufficient. The Leicester Square Theatre was designed by architect Andrew Mather and opened on 19th December 1930 as a dual purpose live theatre/cinema with 1,760 seats in stalls, dress circle and balcony levels. There were three boxes adjacent to each side of the proscenium at dress circle level, but these were only used during live performances. The foyer walls were decorated with polished black marble. The first operators were Warner Brothers and the opening programme was the Warner Bros. two-tone Technicolor film “Viennese Nights” starring Vivienne Segal supported by a stage dance production including Balliol and Merton and the Victoria Girls. It was equipped with a Wurlitzer 3Manual/10Rank theatre organ.

It was taken over in March 1931 by RKO Radio Pictures. In July 1931, Gracie Fields appeared for a week ‘twice-nightly’ as a prelude to her film “Sally in Our Alley”. Jack Hulbert’s song and dance show ‘The R.K.O. Loudspeakers’ was staged as part of the film programme in August 1931. It was taken over by County Cinemas and re-named Olympic Theatre from 21st March 1932, re-opening with John Stuart in “In a Monastery Garden”. County Cinemas had commissioned architect Alister G. MacDonald to re-design the entrance and the interior was re-designed by Edward Carrick. A revolve was installed in the centre of the stage at this time. It closed in July 1932 and Jack Buchanan took control again. In August 1932 films were dropped in favour of non-stop variety which began with ‘Non-Stop Revels’ live on stage, non-stop from two ‘til midnight daily. Marie Kendall singing 'Just Like the Ivy’, was one of the artistes appearing. This policy lasted for almost a year.

It was taken over by United Artists and re-opened on 27th September 1933, as a full time cinema, re-named the Leicester Square Theatre again and re-opening with Jack Buchanan’s own film for United Artists “That’s a Good Girl”. It played United Artists pictures first run in London until it was closed again on 18th July 1937 for redecoration. It re-opened 16th September 1937 with “Victoria The Great” staring Anna Neagle.

In 1938 General Film Distributors took control (J. Arthur Rank was one of the directors) and it became the first West End Cinema to be controlled by what would become the Rank Organisation in later years. It was closed for almost a year from late-October 1940 when it suffered bomb damage. It re-opened 11th July 1941 with “The Flame of New Orleans”. Oscar Deutsch’s Odeon Theatres Ltd. took over in July 1946 and they closed it in July 1950 for some repairs to be carried out to the war damage. The UK premiere of Walt Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” was held here on 26th July 1951. Further repairs were carried out in 1955. The UK premiere of Laurence Olivier’s production of “Richard III” took place in August 1955, and it ran here for thirteen weeks. “The Longest Day” played as a ‘roadshow’ presentation from 11th October 1962 until 4th September 1963. The UK premiere of “Mary Poppins” opened here on 17th December 1964 and played for several weeks before transferring to the Odeon Haymarket. The World Premiere of “A Study in Terror” was held on 4th November 1965. The World Premiere of “Sky West and Crooked” was held at the Leicester Square Theatre on 19th January 1966. A Gala World Premiere of “The Wrong Box” was held on 26th May 1966. On 15th September 1966 saw the World Premiere of “The Trap”. A Gala Premiere of Dean Martin in “Murderers' Row” was held on 24th January 1967. A Premiere for “Maroc 7” staring Gene Barry was held on 22nd March 1967. On 25th May 1967 the Premiere of the (X) certificated “Stranger in the House” was held. The European Gala Premiere of “The Happiest Millionaire” starring Tommy Steele was held here on 26th October 1967. The Leicester Square Theatre was closed on 3rd April 1968 with “Carry On Doctor”. The cinema was to undergo a complete interior re-construction. The detailed French Renaissance style interior was hidden from view, and the Wurlitzer organ which was played at special organ concerts right up to closing was removed from the building.

Architects Arnold Dick Associates designed a new ‘modern style’ single screen cinema within the shell of the building, with a stalls and circle seating areas (removing the upper balcony) and the interior design was by Cassidy, Farrington and Dennys. Seating was provided for 1,407; 900 in the stalls and 507 in the circle. The Leicester Square Theatre re-opened on 12th December 1968 with a Royal Charity Premiere attended by H.R.H. Princess Margaret & Lord Snowdon of “Shalako” starring Sean Connery. It was equipped for 70mm presentations. Over the following 48 years it hosted many film premieres including “Papillon” in March 1974, “Tommy” in March 1975 and “Crocodile Dundee” in 1986.

It was re-named Odeon West End from 22nd July 1988 with the opening of the comedy film “The Couch Trip”. It closed for twinning on 11th July 1991 with “The Pope Must Die”. The Odeon West End re-opened on 11th October 1991 with screen 1 upstairs seating 503 playing “Toy Soldiers” and screen 2 downstairs opening on 1st November 1991 with 848 seats playing “Twenty One”. In 2008, the seating capacities were given as 549 and 834. In 2008, the UK premiere of “Sex in the City” saw the film play in both auditoriums.

The historic facade remains virtually untouched to this day, although partly hidden by metal cladding, and the entrance and lobby have been significantly altered. In October 2008, plans were approved by Westminster Council, to demolish the Odeon West End and build a 240-bed hotel on the site. There will be two new screens in the basement, with seating for 440 and 200. Demolition and building work was due to begin in the Summer of 2009, but the plans were put on hold due to the economic situation. The Odeon West Wend had an exclusive run of “The Master” from 2nd November 2012, playing a 70mm print of the film. The cinema in its later years was also the West End base for the annual London Film Festival.

A new set of plans for a hotel were approved by Westminster Council on 21st January 2014, and the Odeon West End closed on 1st January 2015. The final films were “The Hunger Games:Mockingjay, Part 1” showing in screen 1 upstairs (489-seats) and “Interstellar” showing in screen 2 downstairs (814-seats). “Interstellar” had been screened in a 70mm print until 24th December, and was replaced by a digital copy for its final 7-days. Odeon Theatres had four days to remove their equipment from the building which was handed over to the demolition contactors on 5th January 2015, and demolition began in April 2015 and was completed in September 2015.

Contributed by Ross Melnick, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 70 comments)

CF100 on September 2, 2016 at 3:02 pm

Little visible progress on the replacement building, but the newsletter posted on the perimeter hoarding states that the piling is due to be finished on the 8th July.

cinemasimon on November 28, 2016 at 7:44 pm

Hi All, I worked here between 2005 and 2009 as the senior projectionist with Steve Larcombe. I had some of the messiest, craziest, happiest and saddest memories of my professional career at this cinema. I now live in Perth, Australia but returned back in November 2015 to OWE to see the remains being pulled down. It was truly saddening what has happened. In 2006 we were given plans by the council for their vision of what the new Odeon basement would look like and we laughed at them. I still have my master key set though for the entire building! I’ll always have that and the 4000 pictures I took of the building when I was there.

CF100 on February 23, 2017 at 1:42 pm

Hello cinemasimon—I’m assuming you the person who posted an incredible number of pictures of the OWE ‘behind the scenes’ on Flickr?!

A ridiculously obsessive project—I love it. :–)

Albeit the fact that the original ceiling of the Leicester Square Theatre wasn’t removed and was crumbling away, down onto the top of the 1960s auditorium false ceiling, was rather worrying!

I’m confused—why would the council be responsible plans for the basement screens?

CF100 on August 22, 2017 at 3:42 pm

Video of building under construction

Ceremony speech prior to placement of a time capsule

At 4 min 20 sec: “…which will include… an underground cinema complex, adding to the cinematic legacy that the area is so famous for.”

CF100 on September 12, 2017 at 5:30 pm

It turns out that there was a further planning application to Westminster Council in 2016, with amendments to the previous scheme.

Believe it or not, one of these is the “chopping off” of the NW corner of the building, as during enabling works, a UK Power Networks tunnel was “discovered”! (Underneath Leicester Square is a primary substation.)

Floor level numbers have been altered, and the cinema is now primarily on Levels B3 and B4, with the alterations outlined with cross-section plans and 3D visualisations in the Design & Access Statement Part 1.

The cinema aspect of the scheme has been changed, with the gross area reduced by over 2,000sq.ft., now being approx. 20,700sq.ft.

Screen 2 is rotated by 90 deg anti-clockwise. I’m not clear from the cross-sections on whether this involves a reduction in the auditorium’s height, but the basement foyer area is now under Screen 2, instead of being underneath the stepped seating structures of both Screens 1 and 2.

Screen 1 is in about the same location but its layout seems to have been slightly improved; however, being in the NW corner of the building, the auditorium is also slightly sliced off to the right of the screen (which is positioned on the West side of the building, facing East.)

Measuring the screen width on the drawing (fortunately a scale is included), it is about 50ft. wide, with the distance to the last row being about 70ft. or so, i.e. 1.4 screen widths away, which matches another Odeon iSense auditorium.

Permission for the above application has been granted, and I notice that the planning condition (number 6) to have the cinema ready and handed over for fit-out before the hotel opens is still there.

There is another application providing details of public art proposals in relation to a condition of planning permission.

The proposals, which have been approved by Westminster Council, are not for anything that one might reasonably have expected as “public art,” but rather cover proposed facade details and finishes, with lots of drawings, renderings and photos in the document titled “PUBLICARTSCHEME_PART1_LOWRES.”

Bureaucracy aside, I don’t object to the idea of the facade being informed by a schooled artist as having value, and this makes the application of far more relevance here; I see the proposals include faience tiles.

CF100 on April 27, 2018 at 10:32 am

Building work has reached above ground level—photo uploaded.

CF100 on April 30, 2018 at 10:51 am

The contractor McGee, responsible for demolition of existing, as well as basement and superstructure construction, has a web page on the project, with numerous “Community Newsletters” providing a summary of work progress.

A few paraphrased excerpts from the webpage—the works include:

-Asbestos removal. -Excavation of 180,000m3 spoil. -Construction of 6 storey basement, the deepest commercial basement in London at 34m (110ft.) deep. -9 storey reinforced concrete frame above ground.

Noting again that the bulk of the cinema’s demise is on levels B3 and B4, with the entrance lobby on the Upper Ground Floor Level, in the September 2017 newsletter, it states that the B4 slab construction is underway and that construction of the new Odeon Cinema was due to commence within the next month.

November 2017 newsletter: The B3 slab had been completed and “all cores constructed to B2 level.”

February 2018 newsletter: B2 and lower ground floor slab complete, “core 1, 2, 3 & 4 walls [and all vertical columns] from B2 to lower ground floor” complete. Forthcoming: “Liner walls B3 & B2”, “B1 suspended slab”, and “ground floor entry slab.” 6x 58tonne, 25m long steel trusses to be placed “in-situ on the Ground Floor Slab.”

With formwork for the above ground reinforced concrete frame currently visible, it seems reasonable to assume that most of the cinema’s structure is now complete.

LARGE_screen_format on June 3, 2018 at 9:28 am

Is this project running seriously behind schedule as it closed on 5th January 2015 and according to the limited information on Odeon’s website says it will reopen in three years which would have been January 2018?

Zappomatic on June 4, 2018 at 6:47 am

A lot of building projects in London seem to be taking a long time lately, most likely due to the shortage of labour in the construction industry.

CF100 on June 4, 2018 at 3:16 pm

This is a very complicated project involving demolishing the whole block and excavating a massive 34m deep hole in the ground, right next to a busy area with the need to have heavy constraints on access, noise, dust and vibration.

A myriad of potential unknowns could block progress along critical paths; for example, as I mentioned in a previous post, the scheme was altered with the NW corner of the new building “chopped off” to allow for a UK Power Networks tunnel that had been “discovered” during enabling works!

I hadn’t actually realised that the replacement cinema opening date had been pushed back but progress did seem to be slow indeed. At this stage there should be less in the way of unknowns to scupper things…

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