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Of all the striking examples of modern architecture that sprung up across the British Isles during the 1930s, the cinema must surely be considered to have had the greatest impact. No other type of building could have succeeded in imposing such outlandish, extravagant and radical exteriors into the typical high street. Whether it was the appeal of the escapism they offered, the allure of the gorgeous charismatic stars projected on the screen, the perceived economic boost to the area or the fashionable kudos these places bestowed on the locality, they won over both town planners and moviegoers alike, springing up in their hundreds throughout the decade. A network of local and national operators flooded the country with brand new, purpose-built picture palaces, all competing to outdo each other both in picture & sound quality, and the sheer theatrics of the venue. Of all these operators though (and there were many), ODEON is surely the chain whose legacy is most enviable. A chain that not only managed to tick all the boxes required for a great cinema, but which (in many cases) commissioned some of the most unbelievably modern, daring, and unusual structures ever seen in this country.

Chester
Chester

In 1935 a young photographer named John Maltby gained a commission to document the existing ODEON estate, and capture each new cinema as it was completed. Maltby’s eye for composition, combined with the startling subject matter helped kick start his career, ultimately becoming one of the most important English architectural photographers of the Twentieth Century. Now held in the National Archive, his atmospheric monochrome portfolio gives priceless window into the how the pioneering architecture of the period looked when new, free from alteration and years of decay.

Morecambe
Morecambe

Eighty years on, it was Maltby’s wonderful collection of ODEON photographs that inspired me to embark on this project, creating an updated series of images documenting the surviving buildings. ‘Surviving’ being the key word, and the major difference between the original and the new photo series. Of the 140 buildings built and opened under the ODEON banner before the outbreak of war in 1939, only 52 survive in their entirety, with a handful of others remaining in altered form.

Newport full
Newport

Commencing in late 2017, I compiled a definitive list, and set out to visit each location.  For the sake of simplicity and bearing in mind many of  the interiors have been heavily altered I have chosen to focus purely on the exterior of each, either reproducing the angle shot by Maltby in period, or occasionally choosing a suitable alternative.

Rhyl full
Rhyl

The ‘ODEON Relics’ project captures each surviving venue in its current state, to be presented in a hardback book format published October 2019 with pre-orders from June.

BOOK MOCK UP1

Mockups Design

All images © Philip Butler 2019. Please do not reproduce without gaining prior permission, and if you do please please please give me a credit!

7 thoughts on “ ODEON Relics ”

    1. Hi Michael, thanks for getting touch. I’d certainly love to see the photos. Chester is one of my personal favourites from the ODEON cannon, and despite the loss of some internal features, I feel Storyhouse is a resounding success. I only wish I could say the same for some of the other old cinemas I’ve visited with my camera!
      I don’t know if you use the cinematreasures website, but they are always looking for older photos of cinemas and welcome uploads.
      Best wishes, Philip
      philip@artdecomagpie.com

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      1. Hi Philip, thanks for the reply. I’ll send over some images over once I’ve scanned the bw negs. They’re not particularly amazing photos or anything but more of a record of how the Chester odeon was in the 80’s. I’ve always been a fan of the Odeon buildings and used to visit the Leicester one to see films. My sister also used to live opposite thew York Odeon. Thanks for recommending the cinema treasures website, I’ll take a look. Cheers. Michael

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  1. Philip, You have created some lovely images of your treasures and a tome well-worth producing as Art Deco and modern and Moderne architecture becomes more appreciated (even as as it is lost). If you have not come across it, there are some great images and good history in “The Picture Palace” by Dennis Sharp (1969) containing a great expression for cinemas as “Machines for viewing”. He also covers the history of Oscar Deutsch’s Odeon cinemas, largely designed by architect Harry Weedon.
    Of interest to me is the old Curzon Cinema , Mayfair (1934; demolished) by Sir John Burnet, Tait & Lorne. Rather than having the streamlined look, they designed an asymmetrically-massed cinema with interlocking cubic forms in the functionalist style. It shows a direct influence Dutch architect Willem Dudok and his Hilversum Town Hall in the Netherlands. Dudok was highly influential not only with British architects int eh 1920s-30s, but also on Australian architects, including Frank Cullen, the archite I am researching as part of my doctorate (http://atch.architecture.uq.edu.au/catholic-schools-queensland-modernist-designs-frank-cullen).
    I’m glad to see that there is such strong interest in early modern architecture and happy that website likes yours and Daniel Wright on Streamlined Modernity – Frank Picks Forgotten Bus Garages, (https://www.londonreconnections.com/2017/streamlined-modernity-frank-picks-forgotten-bus-garages/ ) and Modernism in Metroland (http://www.modernism-in-metroland.co.uk/blog) are inspirational as well as great source of information (in both written and visual forms).
    Happily I was involved in creating and contributing images to the Brisbane Art Deco Project in 2015 (https://www.brisbaneartdeco.com.au/ourheritage) and a lovely book was produced.
    I look forward to publication of yours!
    Keep up the great work! Best wishes – Paul

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    1. Hi Paul, thank you for getting in touch. I wasn’t aware of the Dennis Sharp book or the Curzon, so thanks for the tip offs. I’m fascinated to see the functionalist form of the Curzon, which seems to have been a bit of an anomaly for UK cinema design in the period. The majority had far more flamboyant exteriors, especially in the first 2/3rds of the decade.
      I’m aware of Dudok, who I believe was a key influence to J. Cecil Clavering; pioneer of the ‘Odeon Style’ in places like Sutton Coldfield & Scarborough. There’s a wonderful documentary from 1973 here worth watching if you haven’t seen it, where Bullivant & Clavering talk about their designs. https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-odeon-cavalcade-1973-online
      I’m less familiar with Australian architects, but have recently bought Geoffrey Godard’s Australian Art Deco Hotels book (which I’d highly recommend if you haven’t already purchased it), so intend to start educating myself!
      Anyway, must dash. Do stay in touch.
      Best wishes,
      Philip

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