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70mm at the Odeon Leicester Sq, London

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The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Nigel Wolland MBE FBKS. Chief Engineer 1983 - 2006Date: 01.01.2012
The Odeon Leicester Square in 1998. Image by Nigel Wolland

The Odeon Leicester Square was not equipped for screening 70mm until April 1962. This was much later than the other Rank Theatres in the West End, as the Dominion Tottenham Court Road, Astoria Charing Cross Road and the Metropole Victoria were equipped with Philips DP70s for extended 70mm roadshow presentations from 1958 onwards.

The projection equipment that was installed at Leicester Square were three Cinemeccanica Victoria 10 70/35 dual purpose projectors, with Cinemeccanica Super Zenith 450 Lamphouses and a GB Kalee Duosonic sound system. This replaced the three BTH Super Mk I projectors and BTH sound system. It was interesting to note at the time 3 pairs of these projectors were ordered, one pair each for Leicester Square, and one pair each for the new Odeon Haymarket (Opening with "Barabbas" in 70mm). The other pair made up the third projector at each of these theatres.
 
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The first 70mm film shown on this equipment was "West Side Story" for the 1962 Royal Film Performance on the 26th March, this was for one night only as the film transferred to the Astoria Charing Cross Road for the run. The next 70mm presentation was "Lawrence of Arabia" in December, when the theatre hosted the Royal World Premier and exclusive London run before transferring to the Metropole Victoria in Feb 1963.

I must say this was before my time at Leicester Square, as I was still at the Odeon Kensington. But during the 1960s and 1970s many 70mm premiers and presentations took place at the Odeon.

"Lord Jim" (Feb 65 RFP World Premier and run) "Othello" (May 66 Royal Premier only then Haymarket) "Oliver!" (Sept 68 Royal World Premier and run) "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (Dec 68 Royal World Premier only then Astoria) "Funny Girl" (Jan 69 Royal Premier and run) "Sweet Charity" (Feb 69 Gala Premier and run) "Mackenna’s Gold" (April 69 Royal Premier and run) "Marooned" (Jan 70) "Anne of the Thousand Days" (Feb 70 RFP and run) "Airport" (April 70 Royal Premier and run) Cromwell (July 70 Royal World Premier and run) "Too Late the Hero" (Aug 70) "Waterloo" (Oct 70 Royal World Premier and run) "Nicholas and Alexandra" Nov 71 (Royal World Premier and run) "Mary, Queen of Scots" (March72 RFP then 35mm run for quota) "Lost Horizon (March73 RFP and run) "Funny Lady" (March 75 RFP and run) "Rollerball" (Sept 75 Gala Premier and run) "Return of a man called Horse" (Oct 76)
 
 
View of the curved screen. Note two people standing on stage to give an impression of the screen size. December 2009. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

My first involvement with the Odeon Leicester Square came in 1978 when I was invited to help out at the Royal Film Performance, the film was Columbia Pictures', “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, the first to be presented in 70mm Dolby at the Odeon, with the new Dolby CP100 processor, sound system and additional Pyramid 2000 sub-base speakers. Incidentally this was also the first 70mm premier at the Odeon to use Xenon lamphouses, replacing the original carbon arcs on the Victoria 10s.
 
 
The Victoria 8 with "Titanic" in 70mm. Note DTS 70mm sound head on top of magnetic sound head. Image by Nigel Wolland

After my invitation to this premier, and for the next six years, I was involved with nearly every major event that took place at the Odeon. I must point out this was not in the projection room (except for the odd cup of tea) as I spent most of the time working as stage manager, I looked after the set ups for the orchestras and military bands and operating the stage equipment, and luckily being introduced to many stars who were making personal appearances. I was also very privileged to meet and work with Sir Sydney Samuelson when he was producing the stage shows for the Royal Film Performances from 1979.

Also in 1979 and the early 80s in 70mm, came “Alien” (May 79) "The Black Hole" (Dec 79 Royal World Premier and run) “The Empire Strikes Back” (May 80 Royal European Premier and run). It was on this premier of "The Empire Strikes Back" that the xenon lamp exploded on the incoming projector just before the changeover, resulting in the reel being quickly unlaced and relaced on the third machine, at the same time changing to the Cinemeccanica sound system for the changeover, due to the Dolby magnetic pre-amps only being on the 1 and 2 projectors. Next came "Blue Lagoon" (Oct 80) "Quest for Fire" (April 82) "Annie" (July 82 Royal European Premier and run) "The Entity" (Sept 82) "Tron" (Oct 82) "Gandhi" (Dec 82 Royal European Premier and run).
 
 
The Christie 70mm platter system with "Titanic" at the Odeon Leicester Square in 1998. Image by Nigel Wolland

In April 1983 I was appointed Chief Engineer at the Odeon Leicester Square, moving from the Odeon Kensington. My first 70mm was to be "War Games" (Aug 83 Premier and run) which for the start was run reel to reel on changeovers, as were all the 70mm films shown previously. For the last two weeks of the run, another first for the Odeon, we transferred the print on to a Christie AW3 platter for the remainder of the run. After this, nearly all the 70mm prints shown at the theatre were shown this way, after the initial rehearsal. Also by the end of 1983 after 23 years of valuable service the Victoria 10s were replaced by three Cinemeccanica Victoria 8 70/35mm projectors, also the Dolby CP100 had been replaced with a Dolby CP200 cinema processor. (One of these Vic10s was re-installed at the Projected Picture Trust, Museum of Cinema Technology at Bletchley Park.)
 
 
The sound system of the Odeon Leicester Square in 1998. Image by Nigel Wolland

Continuing with 70mm next was, "Ghostbusters" (Dec 84) "Cocoon" (Sept 85) "The Black Cauldron" (Oct 85) "Santa Claus-The Movie" (Nov 85 Royal Charity Premier and run) "A Chorus Line" (Jan 86 Royal Charity Premier and run) "White Nights" (March 86 RFP and run) With "White Nights", after the print had been rehearsed from the platter, we found that where the reels had been joined up we still had the pre-laps (silent gaps in the sound, not noticed when running reel to reel) on the beginnings and ends of reels. This involved breaking down the print to remove the ’gaps’ and running back on to the platter and rehearsing again. After doing this a couple of times, we still had a few bits to remove, so I found myself in the middle of the night before the premier still removing ’bits’ from the print, with no chance to rehearse again. I did think at the time, if I get this wrong I’m in the shit tomorrow night, fortunately it was OK. "Aliens" (Aug 86) "Platoon" (April 87 Gala Premier and run) "Spaceballs" (Dec 87) "The Last Emperor" (Feb 88 Royal Charity Premier and run) "Empire of the Sun" (March 88 RFP only then Warner) "Three Men and a Baby" (April 88) "Die Hard" (Nov 88 London Film Festival) "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (Dec 88 Premier and run) "Slipstream" (Feb 89 Royal Charity Premier and run) "The Abyss" (Oct 89) "Always" (March 90 RFP only then Plaza). This was a special night for me as I was presented to the Queen in the line up at the end of the show.
 
 
View of stalls and balcony from the stage in December 2009. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

Click on the image to a see a large version

Continuing with :- "Mountains of the Moon" (April 90) "Dick Tracy" (July 90 Premier and run) "The Sheltering Sky" (Nov 90 London Film Festival Closing Gala and run) "Arachnophobia" (Jan 91) "Edward Scissorhands" (July 91) "Terminator 2 (Aug 91) "Hook" (April 92 Royal Charity Premier and Run) "Alien 3" (Aug 92) "Beauty and the Beast" (Oct 92 Premier only then Odeon West End) "Last Action Hero" (July 93) "Remains of the Day" (Nov 93 London Film Festival Opening Gala only then Curzon Mayfair).

After this time 70mm screenings at the Odeon were getting rarer, but in July 96 we had a very special showing of the BFIs Restored 70mm Version of "Lawrence of Arabia", this was for a Freddie Young tribute, after the screening when introduced on stage, he was surprised by Michael Aspel for TVs ‘This is your Life’ programme. This was also to be the last 70mm 6 track magnetic film to be shown at the Odeon.
 
 
View across the cinema in December 2009. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

Click on the image to a see a large version


The next presentation was "Titanic" in Jan 98 (after the RFP at the Empire) this was the first to shown in 70mm DTS, with a time code on the film linked to a disc in the DTS processor. We had a few problems with the 70mm polyester stock drying out on "Titanic", causing the film to run rather erratic on the Christie platter. The addition of a powerful humidifier sorted out the problem, putting more ‘body’ back into the film stock. Amazing business with this film showing to capacity houses, also being the only 70mm print in the country.

In August 1998 the Odeon reopened after a four month £4 million refurbishment, including new projection and sound equipment. This consisted of three Cinemeccanica Victoria 8 70/35 B4000 duel purpose projectors, and JBL power amplifiers, but still using the existing Dolby, DTS, SDDS processors.
 
 
View of stage from the balcony in December 2009. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

Click on the image to a see a large version

The Opening film was "Armageddon" (Aug 98 Gala Premier and run) this film again in 70mm DTS. (The humidity problem now sorted out after "Titanic".) The run ended at the end of August 1998 and this was to be my last 70mm presentation at the Odeon, and possibly the last ever, but there is still hope as one 70/35 projector is still left in the projection room, alongside several of the digital kind.

I know I have passed over all of these films briefly, but I cannot underestimate the time and effort put into these very special screenings and premiers over the years, with rehearsals at all hours, with print managers, Dolby sound engineers, film laboratory technicians, sound and film editors, producers and directors. On top of this we always had a 35mm stand by print, which had to be checked, rehearsed and approved to run as a back up on all of these 70mm premiers.
 
 
Odeon entrance in December 2009. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

You will be pleased to know that the Vic10 that was installed at Bletchley Park in 1983, has just been replaced with one of the newer Vic 8s 70/35 projectors recently removed from the Odeon Leicester Square.

Although Les Goulter and myself kept our own list and details of all the films shown at the Odeon Leicester, I would like to thank Allen Eyles for his list in Picture House magazine No 11, and John Sharp in his list in The 70mm Newsletter Issue No 55, for references and double checking dates.
 
 
  
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Updated 03-04-12