The Odeon Leicester Square is a cinema which occupies the centre of the eastern side of Leicester Square in London, dominating the square with its huge black polished granite facade and 120 feet (37 m) high tower displaying its name. Blue neon outlines the exterior of the building at night. It was built to be the flagship of Oscar Deutsch's Odeon Cinema Circuit and still holds that position today. It hosts numerous European and world film premieres including the annual Royal Film Performance.
The Odeon was completed by Sir Robert McAlpine in 1937 to the design of Harry Weedon and Andrew Mather on the site of the Turkish baths and the adjoining Alhambra Theatre a large music hall dating from the 1850s. The site cost £550,000, the cinema took seven months to build at a cost of £232,755 with 2116 seats. The opening night was Tuesday 2 November 1937; the film shown that night was The Prisoner of Zenda.
The interior was a magnificent art-deco auditorium, with a ribbed ceiling and sidewalls, featuring concealed strip lighting in coves, and two bas relief sculptures of naked nymphs were positioned on the front splay walls, as if leaping towards the screen. All the seats were covered in a faux-leopard skin material. A modernisation in 1967 removed many of the original features, with all of the ribbed plasterwork from the balcony to the proscenium replaced by smooth finishes. A refurbishment in 1998 included new versions of some lost details, including the figures, and seating upholstery pattern.
The first wide-screen (screen ratio 1.66:1) ever installed in Great Britain was premiered on 14 May 1953, the film shown was Tonight We Sing. The British debut of CinemaScope (screen ratio 2.55:1) following soon after on 19 November 1953 with the quasi-biblical epic, The Robe. The first cinema to show cinemascope in London was the Odeon Tottenham Court Road (9 June 1953) which was also the venue for the first screening of Cinerama.
The theatre's Chief Engineer, Nigel Wolland, was awarded an MBE for services to the film industry in 2007. The theatre's general manager, Chris Hilton, was awarded an MBE for services to the film industry in 2010.
After Nigel Wolland's retirement in 2006, Mark Nice was appointed the cinema's Chief Engineer. Mark Nice has recently been promoted the position of Odeon Engineer with Toni Purvis assuming the role of Operations Manager Digital.
The Odeon is the largest single-screen cinema in the United Kingdom and one of the few with its circle and stalls remaining intact. The cinema is fully equipped to show films in 35mm, 70mm and digital on a 48ft. wide screen, as well as extensive stage facilities for the occasional live show.
Two sets of tabs (curtains) are also installed and used for most performances. The cinema houses all major digital sound systems: Sony Dynamic Digital Sound, Dolby Digital and DTS. It had the UK's first wide-screen installed in 1953, and more recently, was the first to have a digital projector installed in 1999.
There are 1683 seats – reduced from nearly 2000 to make way for greater leg-room – with a large circle bar and even "Royal Retiring Room" for visiting monarchs. Seating is divided between the Royal Circle, Rear Circle and Stalls.
In March 2011, all the cinema's screens converted to Digital Projection equipment with 3D capability. Up until 2009 the cinema and film distributors did not have faith in the reliability of digital presentations, so the cinema would run a 35mm print alongside. If the digital show failed the projectionist would switch to film. If that projector then failed, the performance would be abandoned. One 35mm/70mm projector has been retained, and has been used for recent 70mm releases including "The Hateful Eight," "Interstellar" and "Dunkirk." A silver screen is used for 3D presentations, placed in front of the white screen used for 2D presentations. The silver screen is a fraction smaller and screen tabs are not used during 3D performances. Most of the trained projectionists at the Odeon retired, or were made redundant in 2011. Presentations are now mostly automated.
Inserted into what was once an alleyway running alongside the main house, is "Odeon Studios," a "mini-plex" containing five much smaller auditoria, each seating between 50 and 60 patrons. It was originally named "Odeon Mezzanine," but was rebranded following a refurbishment in 2012.
Odeon plans on a full refurbishment at a projected cost of £10-15m, which will see the building retained as a single screen cinema with stalls and circle levels, with the stated intention to maintain its character.