New book celebrates Odeon cinemas and their art-deco picture palaces

Going to Odeon cinemas are some of my earliest and most treasured memories. It conjures up thoughts of being overwhelmed at the lavish, though fading decor and amazed at the vast auditoriums.

Going was an event. Even if that event was seeing some two-bit “comedy” such as Police Academy 7.

The cinema today is a church

Foremost among them was the Woolwich Odeon near the ferry. By the time I was going its heyday, and that of Woolwich to be fair, had long gone. I loved it despite that – or maybe because the faded glamour gave it something.

Like most other Odeon’s it closed – though wasn’t demolished and is now New Wine Church. Many others didn’t survive.

Now a book is out celebrating that ground breaking inter-war period when the cinema chain under Oscar Deutsch (1893-1941) embarked on an expansion bringing Hollywood glamour to towns across the country via streamlined design and heavy use of cream tiled cladding. Fins and soaring towers were common.

Bristol Odeon survives – though much is now retail. Interior lost

Eltham also saw an Odeon which became a Coronet cinema in its last days like Woolwich. It’s now flats and shops.

At least it wasn’t all lost. That sweeping canopy, tiles and gorgeous red curving window frame survive.

Deptford lost its Odeon cinema in the 1980s. A picture of the structure in its dying days can be seen on this Transpontine post.

The man behind it all

By the time Oscar Deutsch died in 1941 there were 258 Odeons across Britain having started just 13 years before. He was also proud of his buildings and commissioned photographs of every cinema in 1935.

Author Christopher Fowler has written a nice article on Oscar Deutsch and Odeon. For those unaware, Fowler is an author who grew up in Greenwich and Abbey Wood. His autobiography is a great read. He also wrote of how crucial east Greenwich library was during his formative years. That’s another building now not used for its original purpose. Click below for bigger images.

The name Odeon originally came from ancient Greek and used for amphitheaters. It was a term used in Italy and France in the 1920s as well as the US where nickel odeons existed. And that’s how we have the Nickleodeon TV channel name today.

I’m not under any commission or anything for highlighting the new Odeon book (no one ever offers me that!) but wanted to give it a  little highlight as any chance to celebrate the Odeon style is one I will gladly take.

The book is titled Odeon Relics – Nineteen-Thirties Icons in the Twenty-First Century and out today.

The book looks gorgeous and befitting of buildings which lit up small towns and big cities across the UK.

Researching the history of Odeons revealed some news in the past week. One in Bradford that’s lay empty for 19 years is to be refurbished into a music venue. Another in Colchester is being spruced up after development plans stalled and the council told developers to improve the site.

The problem is these buildings – without windows of course for the screening auditoriums – are difficult to find uses for. Many become churches, Wetherspoons or bingo halls. Those that don’t have been pulled down.

A signed copy by the author is available here.


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J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

2 thoughts on “New book celebrates Odeon cinemas and their art-deco picture palaces

  • That looks quite appealing You’re right in saying that even going to see a two-bit film (another 48hrs in my case) was something of an event to say nothing of Saturday morning wrestling or the landmark films like Raiders of the Lost Ark My late father told me there used to be a cinema at the Royal Standard, where M&S now stands, though he could never recall the name. If they didn’t put such an emphasis on the pre-show rituals or Disney studio films I’d still pop along to the cinema now and again.

  • The cinema the used be on Old Dover Road where Marks & Spencer’s now stands was called the Roxy. There used to be a cinema on Wellington Street in Woolwich called the ABC.After it was closed it was used for other venues before being demolished. The site has now been redeveloped.


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