Goodbye Piccadilly Tube, Farewell Odeon Leicester Square


Look on Metacritic or Apple Trailers right now and all you’ll find is a ragbag collection of B-movies elevated from direct-to-video. The only potential blockbuster being trailed is Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’, only because he’s insisting it goes into physical theatres come what may. For the first and only time in its history, cinema has effectively died. Films were still produced during wartime. This goes far beyond that.

TV streaming was already in line to start replacing cinema when format lengths were set free, although there’s a risk now that Netflix has started falling into the trap of behaving like a studio, throwing money at bad passion projects like the unfunny ‘Space Force’.

The relationship between theatrical exhibitors and studios has long been a fractious one. The pandemic has completed cinema’s perfect storm, and it seems unlikely that the giant movie houses will ever fully recover. Audiences have had time to compare their home viewing experiences, and large cinemas will be found wanting. The small luxury brands like the UK’s Electric and Curzon were already self-isolated by wide seats and cocktail delivery services and will survive as high-end venues.

Theatre is irreplaceable because it has no alternative equivalent, but cinema is not. The studio-to-theatre problem has deep roots. Cinemas were never just about seeing films. They were a social event, a dating choice from an era before online hookups. I love the physical experience of seeing a movie on a big screen that fills your peripheral vision and resonates through your bones with ominous low notes, but it’s now only necessary for a handful of films a year.

London’s West End will now carry memories of its recent time as a no-go plague zone. Currently the thought of squeezing out of Piccadilly Circus tube to queue at an overpriced refreshment stand in the Odeon Leicester Square (even with its lovely Wurlitzer) is unappealing. If that means watching an MCU movie in comfort at home or in a specialist screening room, fine by me.


22 comments on “Goodbye Piccadilly Tube, Farewell Odeon Leicester Square”

  1. Liz Thompson says:

    Unfortunately for me, cinema visits have always resulted in a severe migraine attack. Because of that, I only go to a cinema if it’s a film I want to see desperately, and it needs to be big screen for full effect. Having said that, I still bought dvds for Peterloo and 1917, which really ought to have full sized screens, although I do have the lockdown as an excuse for 1917.
    Living in a small village as a child, films were rare visits by infrequent bus service to the nearest town. I saw Cliff Richard’s films (I was only teenage for god’s sake!), but also Spartacus . I regret to say, my only real memories are the animated films that Disney produced. I did manage to avoid Sound of Music, a decision I have never regretted and have adhered to ever since.
    I think the problem is the flicker of the big screen. My eyes detect it and my head rebels. Leeds has got several of these multi-screen, multi-film cinema complexes, but I shall be surprised if they all survive, even allowing for a large student population and cut price deals for them.

  2. Bee says:

    Going to the Cinema used to be wonderful. I fondly remember going every Monday when tickets were £2 in the West End. Sadly now there’s too much talking and too many phones going off for me to be comfortable. Though the last time we went o our local complex in Park Royal we were the only people there. That was sad in a different way.

    And I totally agree on Space Force – absolutely bloody dire!

  3. brooke says:

    The distribution mechanism may have changed but the slock it carries has not.
    I am continually amazed–so few industries are prepared to think outside the building.

  4. Rachel Green says:

    I’m quite enjoying Space Force. It gives me at least one belly-laugh per episode.

  5. Brian Evans says:

    I was assistant manager at the Empire in Leicester Square, and Plaza in Lower Regent Street in the early 1980s. During my time there, the Empire was going through a pad patch with flop after flop. (I like to think it was coincidence and not me being the kiss of death.) It was at this time when video was coming to the fore. It looked like the end of cinema as we knew it. Then the first multiplex in UK was opened, the Point in Milton Keynes, and this reversed the trend. Now, despite all the streaming networks, cinema was still doing well enough to be opening more and more screens, until the virus arrived. I think, despite admin’s pessimism, this won’t be the end of cinema. As he points out, it is somewhere to go on a date, which people still do.

    Liz, I would have hated being in your position re migraine attacks. As a child, the cinemas around Liverpool and the Wirral were my second home. I have so many fond memories. And I include The Sound of Music. I saw this with Mum on her third visit (she went seven times in all.) Back at school, we had an “outing” session checking who had seen the film. It came out that most of us had, and it was till then a bit of a guilty secret. And, without fail, everyone of us had to grudgingly admit how much we had enjoyed it.

  6. Brian Evans says:

    By the way, we always referred to going to the cinema as going to the “pitchers” or “flicks” The word “movies” was not then in our vocabulary. It is a word I still can’t bring myself to use. I don’t really know why.

  7. admin says:

    I remember you, Brian. It was always a pleasure to see you smiling at the door.

  8. Trace Turner says:

    When I was a child, go to the movies was a rare treat. It meant getting everyone ready at the same time and in the car. One of my earliest memories is going to s drive in movie in my pajamas. My mother was a teenager in the 1940’s and spent a lot of time seeing films and making movie star scrapbooks from magazines. I still have a couple of those.
    I think another reason the big cinema has declined is that people simply don’t know what is coming out or where it’s playing. In the days when there were only a few TV channels and everyone read the newspaper, you couldn’t avoid ads and commercials for the latest releases. Now you have to actively seek out that kind of thing and I’m sure most people (like me) don’t bother. I like going to a cinema but it has to be something that I really want to see for me to make the effort. And just to weigh in on the Sound of Music, I have only seen it on the TV, enjoyed it at the time, and would like to see it on a big screen, and maybe, dare I say it, a sing along showing.

  9. Jan says:

    Agreed Brian was same for me we went to the pictures or the flicks.

    The only time I thought of them as movies was in relation to the stars acting in them.

  10. Brian Evans says:

    Thanks for the sarky comment Chris. It’s a nice cheering sign that you are getting better and back to normal.

  11. Brian Evans says:

    Jan- and we never said “we went (or are going) to the cinema” One lad in school said it once and it sounded rather affected. Natch, we all took the micky. Funnily enough, I still remember his name-Colin!

  12. Roger says:

    Ha! I knew someone who went to “the kinema”, Brian Evans. He was doing Greek.
    My own film education came via the London repertory cinemas and their double or triple bills – the Everyman (yes, there was only one, with very painful seats), the Electric, the Gate, the Paris Pullman, the Rio, the Kingsland…. All changed, changed utterly, or gone now.

  13. Ian Luck says:

    I don’t bother going to the cinema any more – the temptation to do some thicko a serious injury might just get too powerful to resist – and the last time I went there were so many people there actively not watching the movie, and treating it as if they were at home, talking, arguing, playing games on their phones, being too damn stupid to follow a plot, and asking assinine questions (the proper name for this sort of person is an ‘askhole’, by the way), that if I had lost my temper, I fear that it might have turned into the Church fight, from ‘Kingsman’.

  14. admin says:

    I wasn’t being sarky – we were always there for the industry screenings and I’m pretty sure you greeted at a lot of them!

  15. Jo W says:

    I haven’t been to the pictures for years,for reasons that have already been mentioned by others. Prefer to wait until a ‘big film’ comes on the telly,so it can be enjoyed in peace or turned off when I realise that it’s rubbish.
    As for Sound of Music, I stand with the haven’t seen it and wild horses etc couldn’t make me crowd.
    Mind you, ‘im indoors saw it, at a cinema in Tottenham Court Road,when it was first released. (This was some time before we met.) He sat behind two rows of nuns! Real ones,not the dress up to watch the film sort.
    Keep well,both of you.

  16. Peter Dixon says:

    Crikey! I’ve got to reverse the trend – I still regularly go to the cinema with my son and daughter who are in their mid 20’s. We’ve got 3 multiplexes within reasonable distance and 3 independents. I find the quality, comfort and sound systems to be excellent. If you time it right there aren’t many crowds (Sunday lunchtime is always quiet).My only quibble is that a lot of more obscure films that are shown and reviewed in London don’t get out to the provinces.
    The last film we watched was the hilarious ‘The Lighthouse’ which was a bit like that Specsavers ad with the shortsighted old shepherd. Beautifully filmed and acted throughout with top grade ham (and mustard) the script and dialogue was like a set of outtakes from Spongebob Squarepants. The plot unnecessary because if you trap 2 men on an island they’ll either kill each other or fall in love with each other, or possibly both.

  17. Derek j Lewis says:

    Why not watch some jacques Tati. Lovely blu-ray box on amazon. Challenging not one bit. Such good forget the world for 90mins fun though

  18. Brian Evans says:

    Chris, the reason I thought you were being sarky, is because that couldn’t have been me. I was too rushed off me sodding feet running around after you lot to have time to stand around smiling inanely. The general manager was a martinet! If I did have a spare second to stand at the door, I was usually scowling with a face as long as lent. I was known for it.

    To be honest though, I have some many happy memories of times there, and I used to enjoy the press shows. The best one was the press show for “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life” at the Plaza -the bit with Terry Jones’s glutton throwing up in in the restaurant. They used Campbells Veg Soup for it, so it was served hot in bowls to the press afterwards.

    I recall reading the bit in one of your autobiogs of you having to dress in tight jeans shorts and roller skates for a press do for “Can’t Stop the Music”. I laughed out loud. I was in the National Theatre bookshop at the time having a sly skim through it and everyone turned to see where the noise was coming from. On the strength of that description and laugh, I bought the book.

  19. Liz Thompson says:

    Jo W, thanks for the support on Sound of Music! My daughter showed me a satirucal clip of it using different words once, but I wince when I hear one of the songs being played.
    Brian, I appreciate the sympathy. I wouldn’t have been able to go very often from my village anyway, due to the buses, or lack of them. I remember sneaking into a A film with some school friends. We approached someone in the queue, and he got the tickets for us. This was in the days when there were queues for almost any film. I have a feeling it was an Elvis film, no recollection of which. I wasn’t a fan.

  20. Andrew Jones says:

    Reading your second memoir I said to my wife Christopher Fowler Co wrote the Brentford Nylons ad she’ said who’s Christopher Fowler. When I said he wrote Bryant and may she laughed profusely. You really attach to people like us so thank you. For me a fellow south Londoner cereal submarines powered by baking powder and that orange scented after shave take me right back. Get well and stay safe.

  21. Andrew Jones says:

    Oh and my grandad brought in the Messinas and I over lived in a house where the Ascot heater froze solid

  22. Andrew Jones says:

    And sorry to bang on but yes Witch Finder General is brilliant but no mention of Wilfred Brambles cameo?

Comments are closed.