Odeon West End

40 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7LP

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: County Cinemas, Odeon Theatres Ltd., Rank Organisation, RKO, United Artists Theater Circuit Inc., Warner Bros. Circuit Management Corp.

Architects: Alister Gladstone MacDonald, Andrew Mather

Firms: Arnold Dick Associates, Cassidy, Farrington & Dennys

Styles: French Renaissance

Previous Names: Leicester Square Theatre, RKO Leicester Square Theatre, Olympic Theatre

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News About This Theater

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 German 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 upper 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.

A new Londoner Hotel was built on the site which contains a 2-screen Odeon Luxe London West End in its basement which opened on 9th September 2021. (It has its own page on Cinema Treasures).

Contributed by Ross Melnick, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 105 comments)

rivest266
rivest266 on May 21, 2021 at 6:21 am

Also uploaded the October 11th, 1991 ad as well.

CF100
CF100 on September 21, 2021 at 12:59 pm

Hard to believe it was 7 years ago, but I still remember the following comment:

“curmudgeon on December 16, 2014 at 8:01 am Disgraceful! More history gone. Bet the proposed basement cinemas never eventuate.”

I replied that it was a planning condition that, in effect, they would. The local authority is Westminster Council, and this is Leicester Square of all places… and so they have.

The following dated 24th March 2020 is listed on Westminster Council’s planning site:

“20/02104/ADFULL | Details of evidence the cinema has been provided with services and made ready for fit out by the relevant tenant [pursuant to planning permission conditions…]

Of course, this does not mean that everyone would consider the eventuated cinema to be any better than no cinema!

d8rren
d8rren on September 26, 2021 at 5:40 pm

replacement cinema is now open

Biffaskin
Biffaskin on August 28, 2022 at 7:36 am

It’s still crass that such a beautiful building was demolished for a typical glass/steel/concrete carbuncle… no doubt the business rates in a 5* boutique hotel is far higher than a mere cinema… money talks…

CF100
CF100 on September 5, 2022 at 12:01 pm

Biffaskin: Finishes of the new building’s façade include blue faience tiles and “crystal white” granite cladding.

Full details are available in the following planning application under “Facade Material Samples”:

18/02417/ADFULL – Details of facing materials samples pursuant to Condition 28 of planning permission dated 29 November 2016.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on September 5, 2022 at 12:19 pm

I am an American who for more than 20 years, has every year (except for the Pandemic years of 2020 & 2021) visited England. I saw many movies at this theater, though only once it had 2 screens, and remain upset it was demolished. As to the new building which I saw in May, it is an exceptionally nice building, with beautiful materials. I’ve now posted 2 of my photos on that theater’s page. I would like to see a movie in the larger auditorium in that new building.

Lionel
Lionel on September 5, 2022 at 2:17 pm

I only saw 2 films there (both in 70mm) and it was still a single-screen theater: Rocky III in 1982 and Return of the Jedi in 1983. I remember that the sound was crystal clear, probably an aging sound system but still in good condition to correctly reproduce the sophisticated sound mix of “Jedi”. And with “Jedi”, an impressive panel had been install on the building front showing not only the film poster bill, but with additional red neon lines that blinked to simulate the spaceships (TIE fighters) laser shots. Good pictures of the single-screen cinema on Flickr here.

CF100
CF100 on September 5, 2022 at 2:22 pm

HowardBHaas: Good to see your photos!

I’m finally back out and about, and over the weekend, I saw this building (in finished form) for the first time in daylight. I have to say that I was very surprised–there is a real depth to the facing materials. The faience tiles positively gleam depending on the angle they’re lit/viewed. It really must be seen in person.

Agree with you about the demolition, but try to be realistic…

CF100
CF100 on September 5, 2022 at 5:11 pm

Lionel: I never visited in single screen form, but I can say…

In Screen 2, the screen speaker system was JBL 4675’s with JBL 4688 “Triple Chamber Bandpass” subwoofers. (Later, JBL/Harman faced litigation from Bose for patent infringement, lost, and the TCB design products discontinued.) As you’d imagine, the surrounds were 8330’s.

No baffle wall, but (standard practice today) the wall behind the screen was covered with absorptive material (Rockwool) to control acoustics (i.e., sound bouncing off the unperforated parts of the screen to the wall behind, back and forth.)

Dolby Digital, DTS and SDDS all supported.

Very good sound.

Regarding “Return of the Jedi;” this was on the cusp of improvements to the B-chain, including the THX programme and the JBL 4765’s with (then) cutting-edge high power drivers and “bi-radial” horns, c.f., the old “cell horn” (HF section) designs, as in the old Vitavox, Altec Voice of the Theatre, etc.

Over the weekend, I did visit the Screen 1 (Dolby Cinema) in the new OWE, which features a very good Atmos install. Write-up to follow on its Cinema Treasures page!

Thanks for your fascinating story and link to photos.

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