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”. The World Premiere of “Things to Come” starring Raymond Massey was held on 21st February 1936. 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 83 comments)

Ian on September 20, 2018 at 2:29 am

Good to see on the Lighting Plans that the Odeon entrance and name is so prominent, but there seems little consideration for advertising the films.

Will this be Odeons first new build luxe cinema – or will it count as a conversion as, albeit before opening, it will have been adapted rather than planned from the start?

SethLewis on September 20, 2018 at 2:45 am

A good time to be skeptical about cinemas in basements of mixed use facilities…With cinemas even in Leicester Square all showing the same product will moviegoers find the screens? Will there be a separate entrance? The Loews State 4 inside the Virgin Megastore in NYC lasted barely 5 years (killed off partly by location partly by the expanded 42nd St theatres).

CF100 on September 20, 2018 at 12:35 pm

SethLewis: Yes, the entrance will be separate. Entry will be via a small lobby with escalators down to the main foyer.

Looking at the planning application and comparing to old licensing plans, the replacement Screen 1 will be about the same size as the old auditorium, were it straightened up and made rectangular in shape, i.e. sidewalls moved in and back wall moved up to the front of the booth.

As measured on the plans, replacement screen size is about ~50ft. vs. ~37ft. wide for the previous.

Screen 2 will have a smaller auditorium, but the screen at ~33ft. wide is slightly smaller than the previous. (~37ft.)

So, whilst not saying that this scheme somehow compensates for the loss of heritage, etc., entailed by demolishing the existing, from the POV of the average patron, if anything, it will be a superior offer.

Whether or not there will be sufficient demand to fill them is another matter!

Change of use of the cinema may require planning permission and I would imagine that Westminster Council would not be keen. It also looks very much like its own demise down in the basement and doesn’t integrate well with the rest of the hotel scheme.

Bedrooms could hardly be put in the basement; most obviously they could be used as conference rooms, but then the cinema can hire out the auditoria anyway, and I’d imagine Odeon has very favourable lease terms. I may have to eat my words, but my prediction is it will be a cinema 5 years after opening—if cinemas in general are still viable!

CF100 on September 27, 2018 at 10:40 am

Ian: IIRC an LED module screen below the vertical “ODEON” logo on the North East corner of the building was shown in the main application; it’s still there on the rendering on the first page of the third “Design and Access Statement” document in the above-linked variation application. Looking through the planning “Decision Notice” document for the full 2016 application, I don’t see any reference to it; presumably, separate advertising consent will be required.

Like the OLS and Vue West End, any consent is likely to have restrictions, including not allowing full motion video.

In the case of the large format screen on the facade of the Vue, only static images are allowed with a minimum change rate of 12 seconds.

I suppose it may well count as the first auditorium to open as a Luxe?

Marketman on September 28, 2018 at 1:23 pm

I believe that the Odeon cinema due to open in Durham by the end of 2018 may be the first new build Odeon Luxe.

CF100 on November 29, 2018 at 8:46 pm

I have taken a number of photos of the replacement building over the past few months and hopefully will get around to uploading them sooner rather than later!

Suffice to say for now, the building is externally taking form, with much glazing installed, and the metal framework for the corner “tower” below which will be the entrance to the replacement Odeon, being almost topped out.

davidcoppock on November 29, 2018 at 9:21 pm

This cinema should have been heritage listed!!

CF100 on December 7, 2018 at 7:13 pm

davidcoppock: The original interior had long been lost—the original ceiling did remain above the one “inserted” below in 1968, albeit by the time of closure, in something of a “crumbling” state, and punctured by services in numerous locations.

Whilst the exterior was not listed, it did have a measure of protection afforded by the Leicester Square Conservation Area designation.

Looking through the planning documents in a couple of applications relating to the redevelopment of the former OWE and adjoining properties, English Heritage (as it was then) did object to the entire block being demolished. The redevelopment project has gone through a few iterations over the years; a document with the description field “EH REBUTTAL 11.10.13 – APPENDIX” in application 13/07443/FULL, makes reference to a response by English Heritage in application 08/03016/FULL—alas, I can’t find this anywhere.

(N.B. The two above-linked planning applications relate to the first and second schemes, distinct in their differences—the second scheme is the one that is under construction, albeit with some alterations set out in later applications; of particular relevance here, the cinema layout was substantially altered.)

Nevertheless, the “EH REBUTTAL 11.10.13 – APPENDIX,” whether one cares to agree with the assertions therein, is a pretty good overview of the heritage “situation” as it was.

I think it is fair to say that, whatever the merits of the replacement “basement” cinemas, and it would surely be better if they were more ambitious in scope, externally the new building looks a great deal better than what was there before; above all, the view from Orange Street of the metal sheeting to the side of the former stage house. It is also a vast improvement over the original “amorphous blob” proposals shown in the 2008 application, with its form and “rhythm” better echoing the previous Leicester Square Theatre/OWE.

HowardBHaas on December 7, 2018 at 7:25 pm

“amorphous blob” (to quote above) 2008 rendering- https://www.standard.co.uk/news/coming-soon-movies-in-the-odeon-basement-6830391.html

much improved 2014 rendering (though I’d rather than original theater have stayed)– https://www.citmagazine.com/article/1228193/leicester-square-odeon-cinema-demolished-new-hotel

CF100 on December 8, 2018 at 5:23 pm

HowardBHaas: Thanks for the links.

Wider rendering of the 2008 proposed “amorphous blob.”

Update: Had a look around the outside of the building again today—nothing of note externally visible since my last update.

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