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A selection from our images and more about the NMR
National Monuments

Part of English Heritage from 1 April 1999

Centenary of the cinema
Centenary of cinema logo

These images were gathered together to celebrate the centenary of the cinema in 1996. They were taken mainly from the Maltby collection.

Swiss Cottage (62K image file) NMR088

Odeon, Swiss Cottage, Camden, Greater London (BB87/3613)

The Odeon cinema chain, with its distinctive house style, became almost a byword for movie going during the 1930s. The creation of Oscar Deutsch, it has continued to the present day and is now part of the Rank Organisation.

Leicester Square (39K image file) NMR089

Odeon, Leicester Square, Westminster, Greater London (BB87/3701)

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. Whatever his motives, the result was an invaluable collection of over 1200 images covering 122 purpose-built Odeons and about 40 other cinemas acquired by Deutsch. Often shown in pristine condition at the time of their opening, the photographs range from neon-lit night exteriors to details of projection boxes. As few of these cinemas survive in an unaltered form, and many have disappeared altogether, this collection has acquired a special significance as a record of a bygone age, even one as comparatively recent as the 1930s. As a source of entertainment and information, the cinema was much more important in the lives of people then than it is today: in 1937 alone, 36 new Odeons opened in Britain and attendance figures reflected the drawing power of the 'cathedrals of the movies'.

Erith (28K image file) NMR090

Odeon, Erith, Bexley, Greater London (BB87/3742)

The Maltby collection is available for public consultation in the National Monuments Record and copies of the pictures are available from NMR Public Services; you may also order a copy of any of the images via our message page. Please quote the NMR reference number that appears alongside the thumbnail image.

Woolwich (42K image file) NMR091

Odeon, Woolwich, Greenwich, Greater London (BB87/3661)

The particular architectural significance of the purpose-built Odeon was its achievement of a consistency of style to create a brand image, and one which broke away from that of the traditional theatre which had hitherto influenced cinemas. There was a reflection of several contemporary architectural trends, such as aspects of North European Modern Movement architecture, with its stripping down of decorative detail and emphasis on strong, simple forms and use of brick or stucco, combined with the streamlining and repetition of geometric form as pattern, and the use of modern materials such as faience and neon characteristic of the Art Deco style. Features of the Odeon style, seen in curving entrance canopies, contrasting vertical and horizontal elements and rounded corners, were evident in some early Odeons of 1934. These were picked up and elaborated by Harry Weedon who brought a new coherence and overall simplicity to the design of the many Odeons which he was responsible for.

Chingford (31K image file) NMR092

Odeon, Chingford, Waltham Forest, Greater London (BB87/2873)

The exteriors are often instantly recognisable, even without the ubiquitous lettering of the name Odeon. This is in itself an interesting early example of the visual use of a word as a brand image and was often carried through inside the building with Odeon floor tiles, clocks and even ashtrays. Night-time views emphasise the name and the use of modern neon lighting and indicate an awareness of another contemporary European trend for photographing buildings lit up at night.

Isleworth (23K image file) NMR093

Odeon, Isleworth, Hounslow, Greater London (BB87/2713)

Surbiton (22K image file) NMR094

Odeon, Surbiton, Kingston upon Thames, Greater London (BB87/2795)

Balham (116K image file) NMR095

Odeon, Balham, Wandsworth, Greater London (BB87/3783)

Interior lighting was also important. Concealed lighting could draw attention to particular features, such as plasterwork, as well as emphasising the lines of the interior and creating a particular atmosphere. Lights themselves became part of the decoration with geometric forms and modern designs being typical. The illuminated console of the organ, rising up from beneath the auditorium, continued the emphasis on lighting.

Leicester Square (35K image file) NMR096

Odeon, Leicester Square, Westminster, Greater London (BB87/3769)

Southall (34K image file) NMR097

Odeon, Southall, Ealing, Greater London (BB87/3145)

Southgate (35K image file) NMR098

Odeon, Southgate, Enfield, Greater London (BB87/2932)

Haverstock Hill (37K image file) NMR099

Odeon, Haverstock Hill, Camden, Greater London (BB87/2757)

Considerable variety is evident in the design of the stage or screen curtains, although the same designs are found in different locations. These tend to be the most elaborate and representational feature of the decor with scenes of buildings, jungles or other landscapes carried out in the period style.

Erith (150K image file) NMR100

Odeon, Erith, Bexley, Greater London (BB87/3743)

Leicester Square (57K image file) NMR101

Odeon, Leicester Square, Westminster, Greater London (BB87/2227)

Entrance halls, foyers and of course cafés were integrated into the design scheme, with chrome and frosted glass much in evidence. The Victorian fondness for potted palms obviously continued into this period, somewhat disrupting the clean-cut geometry. Every aspect of this new form of building was photographed, including the essential technology of the projection box.

Muswell Hill (32K image file) NMR102

Odeon, Muswell Hill, Haringey, Greater London (53126)

Chingford (63K image file) NMR103

Odeon, Chingford, Waltham Forest, Greater London (BB87/2877)

Balham (62K image file) NMR104

Odeon, Balham, Wandsworth, Greater London

Sudbury (52K image file) NMR105

Odeon, Sudbury, Brent, Greater London (53095)

Many photographs of opening ceremonies, with Oscar Deutsch himself often present, and staff line ups from commissionaires to usherettes, add to the social interest of the collection.

Sudbury (159K image file) NMR106

Odeon, Sudbury, Brent, Greater London (BB87/4719)

Colindale (177K image file) NMR107

Odeon, Colindale, Barnet, Greater London (BB87/2668)

The contrast of the typical elegant and restrained Odeon interior with that of other cinemas is evident when photographs from other sources held by the National Monuments Record are compared. Other cinemas tended to be more eclectic and elaborate in their design, whether influenced by the vast 'Kino Palasts' of Germany, or the 'atmospherics' of America, or reflecting the exotic taste of their designers.

Granada, Woolwich (86K image file) NMR108

Granada, Woolwich, Greenwich, Greater London (CC47/1981)

New Victoria, Westminster (71K image file) NMR109

New Victoria, Westminster, Greater London (BB72/1663)

Astoria, Finsbury Park (68K image file) NMR110

Astoria, Finsbury Park, Islington, Greater London (FF82/369)

Astoria, Finsbury Park (65K image file) NMR111

Astoria, Finsbury Park, Islington, Greater London (FF82/366)

RCHME, National Monuments Record Centre, Kemble Drive, Swindon SN2 2GZ . This page last revised 5 July 1998. Copyright RCHME © Crown copyright 1998