When he invited Harry Weedon, yet another Midlands architect, to co-operate in the interior decor of the Odeon, Warley, which opened on 22 December 1934, a new design flair and speed of building became evident. Larger cinemas were completed in a year or less and smaller ones in seven or eight months, while a new ODEON house style also appeared.

Clavering, a young architect on Harry Weedori s staff, who had qualified only in 1933, had became interested in the ideas of Courbousier and the Germans. Erich Mendelsohn's Universum Cinema in Berlin, built 1928, was particularly influential. Many early cinemas were converted theatres, with their high fly-towers and several levels of galleries, so the ceilings were high. This height was not necessary in cinemas, where there is there was only one balcony and a low screen, so ceilings could be lowered, reducing the building costs, giving a warmer, more intimate atmosphere and moving the projection box down so that films could be projected with less distortion.

Most cinemas at this period borrowed from Classical styles, Chinese, the Moors and especially from the Egyptians. Any romantic style would do and the more that cinemas looked like bizarre film sets, instead of buildings, the better. Instead of this, Odeon Cinemas developed a plain, modern style, simple and bold. They were characterized by a large fascia to the street in faience, or terracotta and the name ODEON lit by a halo of red neon light. This, with floodlighting from above the entrance canopy, made a dramatic impact at night. As a result, the cinemas had a characteristic style which could be recognised from one end of the country to the other.

The expansion and building were organized on almost military lines, with a precise brief for each building, the latest cinema equipment, bulk buying of carpets, settees and even ash trays. Frequent and close inspection of each stage of building, with rigid attention to fire-regulations and local bye-laws, was standard so that nothing should interfere with the buildings being accepted for showing films by the designated opening day.

The people involved were almost cut off from the outside world by their obsession for opening cinemas. Sixteen hours a day were normal. R.A.Bullivant, one of the architects involved in the building of the chain of Odeons, said in 1979:

'I was reminded how myopic a view I had [of the Nineteen Thirties], yet I was constantly travelling the country when motoring was still a delight and I was conscious of my good fortune at a time when many architects had little or no work to do. At first I was only vaguely conscious of what was going on outside.

'Later it was impossible not to be aware that war would come again, but war was not discussed and sites were acquired and openings planned into 1940 and 1941. We became anaesthetized against the inevitable.'

As an example of the pace at which they worked, Muswell Hill Odeon was one of thirty-two Odeons opened in 1936 alone.

 

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Talk by R.A.Bullivant at the Victoria & Albert Mueum,1979.

 

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