The Black & White Picture Place

A Brief History of Cinema in Chester

by David A. Ellis and Steve Howe

Introduction | Music Hall | Gaumont Palace | Tatler/Classic | ABC Regal | Odeon I | Park, Saltney | Majestic | Other Cinemas | Advertisments

More Photographs of the Odeon back to part I

The Odeon as it appeared in 1947..

How the cinema looked before its recent 'modernisations'. Compare it with the photograph below...

Doormen accompany the manager, Harry Yorke and friend outside the Odeon in 1937, a year after its opening.
Anyone know who the lady is and what was the occasion?

odeon staff in 1940
The Odeon staff in 1940

The Odeon's luxurious interior in 1936

odeon york

Here's an interesting photograph of the beautiful Odeon cinema in York, one of two (Chester's, of course, being the other) that were specially designed and executed because of the historic surroundings in which they were situated. Both were designed by Robert Bullivant, of the Harry Weedon Architectural practice.
Sadly, the York Odeon was forced to close down as recently as August 2006. Vist this page on the Cinema Treasures website to learn more..

pointerJune 2006: Bad News for the Chester Odeon!

We're sorry to report that Chester's last city centre cinema, the Odeon, has been sold- to a nightclub developer!

Unlike its ill-fated sister house in York (see above), where they refused to kow-tow to the Odeon's demands for their corporate 're-branding', it went ahead here- our planners expressed unhappiness about it but Odeon/UCI threatened to close if they didn't get their way and there was, naturally, a prompt back-down. The rebranding went ahead- the old red sign was replaced with a blue one- but, mere months later, they sold it anyway.

The buyers, Doncaster-based Brook Leisure, who operate 'pound a pint'-style night clubs in Doncaster, Huddersfield and Oldham, have, for the moment, leased the building back to Odeon and have declared that the cinema will continue to operate "for the next couple of years".

Rupert Gavin, chief executive of Odeon/UCI Cinemas, said they had taken the lease on the building from the new owners until they came to a decision as to its fate- and, having done so, "to obtain the necessary planning approvals". He continued, "We are always very reluctant to leave any city in the UK, but, regrettably, with the increasing amount of new competition with modern facilities coming into Chester and the surrounding area, the profitability of running an old building like the Odeon has become increasingly unviable".

Just what all this "modern new competition" springing up may be is somewhat of a mystery to the locals. Our only city centre theatre, the Gateway, is approaching the end of its final season and is being torn down next year to make way for a huge shopping/yuppy flats development (coincidentally right next door to the old cinema) and the site of our award-winning swimming and leisure complex, the Northgate Arena, is in danger of being flogged off for the erection of a Hilton hotel, of all things.

To generations of Chester people, an evening at the Odeon meant much more than merely watching a film. One could meet one's loved one or friends to have a drink or two, perhaps a meal, maybe watch the world go by in the Market Square or enjoy an early evening stroll on the City Walls- whatever made the perfect evening for you- before settling down to enjoy your film. After the show, there was still the chance of some supper and a final drink before going home.

But soon, it seems, Chester's film fans will be condemned to having to get in their cars to flog out to the cheerless wasteland of the Greyhound Retail Park or, further afield, to the pseudo-American mall at Cheshire Oaks near Ellsmere Port.

And the city centre will not only lose out on all that custom but also be abandoned to the tender mercies of yet more drunken clubbers.

11th December 2009: Yes, friends, welcome to the city that fancies itself as a 'Capital of Culture' but doesn't even have a theatre or cinema! It's just embarrassing. And once again, planning permission is being sought by Brook Leisure in far-away Doncaster to turn Chester's beloved- but outrageously closed- Art Deco Odeon Cinema into yet another nightclub!

odeon sign

Fanatical about film? The departed? The irony never stops...

The Odeon's sorry situation was never once alluded to during the voluminous press coverage of the regional premiere of the new blockbuster James Bond film, Casino Royale, which took place here before an invited audience on 15th November 2006. The film's star, Daniel Craig was born in 1968 just down the road in Liverpool Road, Chester and he is said to have seen his first James Bond film at the Odeon. After the show, Chester City Council's tourism boss, Gerald Tattum enthused, "next time, bring the world premiere to Chester!" An excellent idea indeed- but where?

We regret to inform you that the Odeon Cinema was closed in June 2007.

Some time later, plans were announced for the conversion of the Odeon into Chester's new theatre, also incorporating two cinema screens and a new public library into the space, which would be expanded to take over the sites of the high-rise Commerce House in Hunter Street and the bookmaker's premises in Northgate Street. At the time of this most recent update, July 2013, discussion and planning continues but the re-opening of the Odeon seems as far away as ever.

pointerJuly 2016: All that has chaged and work on the new theatre/library/cinema complex is well underway and expected to open in early 2017! It has been given the name Storyhouse but doubtlessly people will continue to call it The Odeon for many years to come. Some images of the construction process will be poster here soon..

• Return to the first page of our visit to the Odeon or perhaps visit the Northgate chapters of our Chester Virtual Stroll to learn more of this fascinating part of the city. Alternatively, go on to find out a little about Chester's only suburban cinema- the Park in Saltney...

• We also recommend that you visit a remarkable website dedicated to the history and preservation of 'picture palaces' worldwide: Cinema Treasures.
Another superb source is the Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Cinema and Popular Culture.

This video shot in 2007 by David A Ellis features the chief Peter Davies, ex chief Gordon Potter, ex Music Hall, Gaumont projectionist Vin Dunning and others..

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