THE COMPTON ORGAN
THE ODEON
THE ODEON has provided Londoners and tourists alike with film entertainment for more than 70 years.

The building was designed by Andrew Mather and Harry Weedon, and opened on 2nd November, 1937, showing "The Prisoner of Zenda", starring Ron Coleman, Madeline Carol, and David Niven. This was a Royal Premiere performance, with the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester in attendence, and the evening's proceedings started the National Anthem. This was followed by the Odeon News Reel, Hawaiian Holiday (a Disney cartoon featuring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck) and, then, the feature film. The charities that benefited from the evening were The National Trust for Scotland and The Empire Cancer Campaign.

The commanding black granite exterior includes a unique 120-foot-high tower that displays the name of the cinema. The interior was also striking and included 2,116 seats (1,140 in the stalls and 976 circle) lavishly upholstered in leopard-skin moquette. Striding towards the screen, on each side of the proscenium arch, were four near-naked figures (known as the "the flying ladies") sculpted by Raymond Briton-Riviere. The auditorium's banding ripples concealed lighting, while the projection box was provided with all the latest British cinema equipment. The stage was equipped with a hand-painted safety curtain, a fly tower, a rising orchestra pit, and the magnificent five-manual Compton organ (on its own lift). Other facilities included a suite of offices, a Press Room, and a number of Powder Rooms. This cinema was the omega of luxury and of comfort.

In 1967, the cinema closed for "modernisation" and, at that time, most of the beautiful art-deco features, which had survived the London bombings, were disposed of. The film that re-opened the cinema in December of that year was called "Smashing Time". It was a title that, somewhat ironically, seemed to lament the destruction of the flying ladies and the building's other original features.

In 1998, the cinema was again modernised but, this time, the company wished to sympathetically recreate some of the grandeur of the original décor. The flying ladies were recreated and the emphasis was placed on "the best of the old with the best of the new". In 2005, the circle was restepped and re-seated.

THE ALHAMBRA was the building that immediately preceded the Odeon, Leicester Square, but entertainment has been provided on the site for over 150 years.

The Royal Panoptican of Science and Art opened there in 1854, although it was not a particular success. William Hill of Tottenham Court Road provided the venue with a large concert organ which had an array of orchestral voices and effects. It was the first instrument Hill built using the the new 'C compass' and its specifications were considered groundbreaking. In addition to its lavish Byzantine-style case, it had three consoles!

By 1857, the Panoptican had been closed for conversion into the Alhambra Circus (the Hill organ was removed and installed, minus its case, in the North Transept of St Paul's Cathedral, in 1860). In 1864, the circus closed and the venue was transformed into the Alhambra Music Hall. The building was almost completely destroyed, in 1882, by fire. In the fight to put-out the flames, the then Prince of Wales, a voluntary fireman, was almost killed by a collapsing wall. The rebuilt Alhambra Theatre opened in 1884.

On 25 March, 1896, a significant event happened at the Alhambra which, by this time, had become London's premiere house for ballet. Robert William Paul, a pioneering British cinematographer, presented his first public performance of the Theatrograph (British moving pictures). Paul's initial engagement was for two weeks but, in the event, it lasted two years. In June of 1896, Paul filmed the finish of The Derby at Epsom, which was won by Persimmon (the Prince of Wales's horse). He processed the film overnight and screened it the next day to wildly enthusiastic audiences at the packed Alhambra. Paul was, in some ways, the inventor of the Newsreel.

In 1910, Diaghilev brought his Ballet Russe to the Alhambra for a very successful first London season. The theatre continued to flourish but, by 1933, business was waning – largely because the new-fangled "talking pictures" were all the rage at the Empire (on the north side of Leicester Square) and because London's cultural centre was gradually moving to nearby Covent Garden. In September, 1936, Sir Oswald Stoll sold the site to Oscar Deutsch and the Alhambra closed its doors. Demolition work commenced almost immediately, as the Alhambra made way for the Odeon.
Odeon Cinema, Leicester Square (east side), London WC2H 7JY [map]