The Odeon cinema chain was both a cultural icon of 1930s England and an architectural landmark. It was founded by Oscar Deutsch, a modest financier who acquired his first cinemas as one business venture among many. Within a few years he had developed a chain of cinemas to rival the ABC and Gaumont.
The name Odeon was first adopted by Deutsch in 1929 for a cinema in Perry Bar, and in 1933 the Odeon circuit came into existence. New cinemas were built, but the pace of expansion was so rapid that many existing cinemas were acquired and rebranded. 136 new Odeons were opened by 1939, in addition to cinemas which were taken over. The name Odeon was registered as a trademark.
An important element in the Deutsch's success was the 'Odeon style', which broke away from that of the traditional theatre which had previously influenced cinema design. In addition to the distinctive lettering of the logo, Odeons embraced the modern movement and Art Deco. Foyers, auditoriums and every aspect of these cinemas were integrated into the design. Contrasting strong vertical and horizontal lines, curved corners, buff-coloured glazed tile on the facades, the use of neon lights, and contemporary interior decor made Deutsch's houses stand out from their rivals.
We do not know whether it was with an eye to posterity or merely for publicity that Deutsch commissioned the architectural photographer John Maltby to make a comprehensive visual record of all his cinemas. The resulting collection is available for consultation in the NMR.
Story author: English Heritage