Amongst the wealth of ground-breaking architecture that saw construction across these isles during the 1930s, the cinema must surely be considered to have had the greatest impact. No other type of building could have managed to get away with imposing such outlandish, extravagant and radical exteriors on the average British high street. Whether it was the appeal of the escapism they offered, the allure of the gorgeous charismatic stars projected on the screen, or the fashionable kudos these places bestowed on the locality, they won over both town planners and punters a-like, springing up in their 100s throughout the decade.
Of all the operators, and there were many, ODEON is undoubtedly the chain whose legacy is most enviable. A chain that not only managed to tick all the technical boxes required for a great cinema, but whose founder, Oscar Deutsch, commissioned some of the most unbelievably modern, daring, and unusual structures ever seen in this country.
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.
It was this irresistible collection of images that inspired the ODEON Relics project. The concept was simple, to set out in Maltby’s footsteps, and photograph what remains of the original circuit.
Since late 2017 I have been visiting the surviving buildings, photographing each exterior to produce a single colour frame, showcasing the structures in their present state.
Between 1930 & 1939, ODEON built 140 brand new cinemas (whilst simultaneously adopting many other existing ones). From these, only 57 remain (either entirely or the façade retained) and will feature in the photo series. The ‘ODEON Relics’ project aims to capture each surviving venue in it’s current state, to be presented in a hardback book format (hopefully with accompanying exhibition). Below are a selection of images from this ongoing collection. Estimated completion mid-2019.
All images © Philip Butler 2018. Please do not reproduce without gaining prior permission.