The Odyssey is a recently restored, independent Art Deco cinema in St Albans.
Showing a wide selection of titles each month. Including new releases, foreign language films, cult rep screenings and classics.
Our large single screen has 426 seats in total. 216 in the balcony and 210 in the downstairs seating area.
The cinema boasts two fully stocked bars. One is situated in the foyer and one in the downstairs seating area.
Both bars remain open throughout the films.
The foyer bar is open from 10.30am everyday* for tea, coffee, ice cream and other refreshments.
Customers are welcome to drop in and browse the programme (and quiz the staff on their film knowledge!).
*open from midday on Sundays and Bank Holidays!
The Odyssey History
The history of the recently restored Odyssey Cinema begins on 27 July 1908 at 166 London Road, St Albans.
This was to be St Albans’ first cinema and amongst the first cinemas in Hertfordshire!
The Alpha Picture Palace; opened by Arthur Melbourne-Cooper (1874-1961), whose company Alpha Trading, founded in 1904, was involved in the production of short animation films; often combined with live action.
Melbourne-Cooper – son of a local photographer Thomas Milburn-Cooper (1832-1901) – was a pioneering independent cinematographer, he opened the cinema in order to show his own films. His studios moved from Beaconsfield Road to 14 Alma Road – then later to the basement of the Alpha Picture Palace.
The cinema was designed by local architect Percival Blow, (1873-1939). (He also designed the Seed Hall – now Café Rouge – on Holywell Hill in 1911).
There were originally 800 seats in the screen. Prices for tickets ranged from two old pennies to sixpence. Tickets booked for matinées came with a cup of tea. (Much like our patrons who queue on general release, who are provided with a free tea or coffee while they wait!)
In 1911, Melbourne-Cooper sold his studios and cinema. The new owner, George Arthur Dawson, changed its name to the Poly Picture Palace on 20 April 1918 during WWI.
In 1923, the cinema was refurbished once more under the guidance of Percival Blow. This resulted in the installation of a stalls area on the ground floor seating 573, and a balcony with boxes providing 314 seats. A dance hall and workshop were created in the basement.
The cinema’s name was changed again – this time to The Regent on 2 October 1926.
In the morning of 15 December 1927 The Regent suffered a massive fire, only the organ remained untouched. The dance hall became submerged in water from the fire brigade. The cause of the fire was deemed to have been a lit cigarette left smouldering under a mat.
The Regent rose from the ashes as the Capitol cinema on London Road and was based on a series of plans for a new cinema designed in 1928. The Capitol opened for business on 3 December 1931.
Unlike the former Alpha, the Capitol was built long-ways to London Road and access was at balcony level with stalls on the level below. In this incarnation the seating capacity was enlarged to 452 seats in the balcony and 1168 in the stalls. Underneath there were dressing rooms, a deep stage, a formal restaurant, and a Compton organ.
Lou Morris, who ran his own cinema chain, sold the Capitol in 1932 along with another St Albans cinema the Grand Palace on Stanhope Road to the D. J. James cinema circuit.
In 1934, a further refurb raised the seating capacity to a massive 1728. Three years later in April 1937, the D. J. James circuit was bought by Eastern Cinemas, part of the General Cinema Finance (GCF) group.
At the outbreak of WWII, all cinemas in Britain were closed for a week. They were then re-opened to boost the morale of the British people and also to provide shelter; closing each night at 10pm to comply with blackout regulations.
Due to a lack of other entertainment, cinema attendance increased nationally. St Albans became part of the North and West London distribution network, which showed films before other parts of the country.
In 1943, the GCF became part of the larger Rank Organisation (led by J. Arthur Rank). The Odeon cinema circuit, had expanded greatly during the 1930s. Since there was no construction of cinemas until after the war, buyers became interested in acquiring cinemas in smaller towns and cities – to build an empire of cinemas.
On 1 January 1945, the Capitol formally became an Odeon cinema. Under the Rank Organisation ruling, they did not allow X rated films to be shown in their cinemas.
Before the advent of television, the 1950s was considered a golden era of cinema. In 1954 there was a large reduction in cinema attendance.
Despite many cinemas in the country closing the following decade, Odeon St Albans stayed in business, and installed the new Cinemascope for screening wide screen films.
By the late 1950s, when many cinemas were closing to become dance or bingo halls or bowling alleys, Odeon St Albans remained strong.
1960s & 1970s
Cinema attendance continued to decline into the 1970s. The Odeon chain resorted to using their large cinemas for live shows.
Performers during this era included Billy Fury, Dusty Springfield, and The Rolling Stones, who performed two shows on 30 October 1963.
By early 1973, Odeon St Albans was amongst the first of twenty Rank cinemas converted into multiplexes with three separate screens.
The stalls were divided into two smaller screens; 2 and 3 – seating 115 and 129 respectively. The balcony was made into the separate and larger Screen 1, with 452 seats. The Odeon St Albans, re-opened on 21 January 1973 screening A Clockwork Orange in Screen 1.
By 1984, another fall in cinema attendance occurred. Rank launched a new slogan campaign ‘First Choice Odeon’ to rekindle with audiences looking for ‘a great night out’.
Now the only remaining cinema in the city, the Grand Palace and the Chequers had both closed years earlier.
Despite being financially sound and amidst a loud local Save Our Cinema campaign, the Rank organisation closed Odeon St Albans on 20 August 1995. This was to encourage patrons to attend its new multiplex built at Jarman Park, Hemel Hempstead – which opened on 25 August 1995.
The last film shown at Odeon St Albans was Waterworld.
This decision to close the cinema was met with a lot of criticism. Fittings and fixtures were all stripped out of the building.
Its closure was followed by many years of indecision. It failed to reopen under Council control or through private funding.
There were no further plans to build a new cinema in the city.
After a vigorous campaign by the St Albans Civic Society; supported by thousands of St Albans inhabitants; James Hannaway – owner of The Rex Cinema, Berkhamsted – and a small team of investors – purchased the derelict building on 9 April 2010.
James Hannaway was chosen to front the project after the stunning success of the previously restored Art Deco cinema in Berkhamsted, The Rex, which reopened its doors in 2004 after 16 years of laying derelict.
Reluctant to lose the building to developers and falling for the comfort and style of The Rex, James Hannaway was the perfect local connection to revive the building.
A campaign was started to raise the money necessary to restore the cinema to its original 1930s state, as a viable private business.
On 12 September 2010 the Odeon was renamed The Odyssey (with thanks to competition winner, Jessica Preston). This was in homage to the locally based film director Stanley Kubrick and his 1968 epic 2001: A Space Odyssey.
On 13 May 2013 the building work began to restore the cinema to a single screen picture palace.
Its doors reopened on 27 November 2014 for four gala nights. Invited guests included all the hard working volunteers (from the initial clear out in April 2012), fund raisers, donors, and sponsors.
Each Screening was selected to celebrate a different era of cinema, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, Cinema Paradiso, Back to the Future and Singin’ In the Rain.
The cinema closed for two weeks to complete the finishing touches and then officially reopened on Saturday 13 December 2014. The first matinée was Frozen Singalong (!!) followed by a preview screening of The Theory of Everything.
Since 2014, The Odyssey has been committed to screening a broad choice of film releases. There have already been many highlights over its first years.
These include (but are not limited to):
The Brand New Testament
Hunt For The Wilderpeople
Lawrence of Arabia
Things To Come
Saturday Night Fever
to name a few…
ARCHIVE IMAGES OF
166 LONDON ROAD
The Alpha Picture Palace, 1910
Fire damage to The Regent Cinema, 1927
Capitol interior 1932
Odeon St Albans, 1949
Odeon St Albans, 1970s
Odeon St Albans, 1980s
The derelict building, 1995
The Odyssey Cinema, December 2014