27 April 2010

Odeon chic

A couple of weeks ago I spent a very happy Saturday morning with a bunch of other film nerds on a bus tour of 1930s Odeon cinemas of Birmingham, organised by Flatpack Festival (Oscar Deutsch, who started up the Odeon chain of picture palaces, lived in Birmingham, and some of the earliest venues were built here). I found some wonderful images of Odeon staff fashion, architecture and interiors on the English Heritage photo archive website and thought you enjoy these examples of fantastic 1930s design.

Not unlike this gorgeous dress on Burda Style. 
Extra fashion points for pulling off the bow tie.
[Ushers, Leicester Square, 1937]

Loving the style of the lady seated on the right of the sofa.
The men in white coats are the projectionists.
[Staff, Colindale, 1935]

Fab white collar and buttons on the blonde lady.
Also check out the carpet - the fan motif was used in lots of Odeon sites, apparently.
[Staff, Isleworth, 1935]

Most of the Odeon buildings were designed by architect Harry Weedon, who created a distinctive house style. Odeon Kingstanding is a good example, with its deco curves and prominent fin leading eyes down to the advertising.
[Kingstanding, 1935]

The interiors, overseen by Oscar's wife Lili, were no less impressive. 
The walls and ceilings often lead the eye towards the screen.
[Leicester Square, 1937]

The seats at the flagship Leicester Square site were upholstered in synthetic leopard print. Snazzy! The plush furnishings distinguished Odeons from cinemas that came before, providing a sense of respectability for middle class audiences and offering a place of fantasy and escape for the working class or unemployed.
[Leicester Square, 1937]

[Barnet, 1935]

This looks like the foyer of a posh hotel.
[Barnet, 1935]

I love this pic in so many ways.
[Organist, cinema unknown]

While a few of these cinemas are still standing (albeit with new facades), many are now used for other purposes. For example, the tour took us to the Kingstanding site, which is now a bingo hall. This didn't prevent the group from marching in to admire the ceilings, much to the bemusement of the grandmas trying their luck on the early bird game (I've never felt more middle class in my life). Having been round Birmingham sites, I must take myself on a tour of the London suburbs to see how much of the original architecture has survived. And I may just have to stitch an usher homage outfit...

[Images reproduced by permission of English Heritage.NMR]


  1. Oh boy oh boy...I must pass out now. AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Gorgeous, gorgeous art deco theater. What I would give to walk down that aisle back then.

  3. Have you ever visited the Granada in Tooting? Grade 1 listed, now a bingo hall and a bit shabby, but pure Hollywood Golden Age inside. Found this on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzfmM2oH5NM but well worth the visit anyway!

    1. You might enjoy looking at the series of stories on THE GRANADA THEATRE CIRCUIT that I have written at:


      Included are several pieces about the Granada Theatres at Tooting, Woolwich, Clapham Junction, Walthamstow, Dover, Slough etc.


  4. Holloway Road and Muswell Hill still exist in their original outside form, but I think quite a lot of Holloway's interior was painted over and ripped out.

  5. Art Deco makes me drool. I love all of this.

  6. There were still single-cinema movie theatres around in Montreal when I was a kid. Some real Art Deco gems (the York being the best example), but I had a soft spot for the Monkland because the interior was modeled as the inner courtyard of a Spanish castle - very atmospheric!

  7. Nathalie - thanks so much for sharing the video about Tooting Granada - I must go! Good point it makes about bingo keeping the building in the community, something I didn't fully appreciate when going round the ones in Birmingham.

    Emma Louise - those cinemas sound lovely. The Monkland sounds just like Brixton Academy just up the road from me, a 1920s cinema now used for rock concerts, with an 'atmospherics' style interior complete with balconies and turrets - something it's easy to miss when the lights are down!

  8. I know this post is a tad old but I had to comment. I love old deco and I love the style of these old theatres. If I ever had money to have one in my home I would love to have an old fashioned one rather then these up-to-date modern ones.

  9. Your organist is P Allander Fryer and the organ is that of the Winter Gardens (Odeon) Llandudno,North Wales.


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