Historic Odeon Swiss Cottage cinema: the comeback

The new exterior

Odeon that first opened in 1937 gets futuristic refurbishment with a new screen and seats

The Swiss Cottage Odeon following its refurbishment
How it looked inside in 1937

Published: September 15, 2011

A GIANT cinema screen soaring 20 metres high into the ceiling, seats designed for Formula One racing drivers, a bar serving champagne and smoked salmon – the revamped Odeon cinema in Swiss Cottage is a far cry from the flea-pit picturehouses of yesteryear.

The cinema on Finchley Road throws open its doors tomorrow (Friday) after a three-month re-fit. The changes include north London’s first Imax system – a large, state-of-the-art screen that uses special technology to give viewers a sense of total film immersion.

The building works, costing £3million, have also seen an original first-floor bar re-installed and a café area opened to the public.

Cinema manager Richard Mann said: “We wanted to bring the cinema up to date and this is a prime location for an Imax. It is the first of its kind in north London.”

The new seats have flashy backs that the cinema’s marketing blurb claims will improve customers’ posture and reduce backache by encouraging circulation – reducing the fidget factor and making lengthy films such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy easier to bear. Other attractions include table service so film fans can order food as the action unfolds.

It is the latest chapter in the glitzy history of the Odeon dating back to the golden age of film in the 1930s.

Opening in 1937, it was initially not intended as a site for an Odeon at all: plans were laid by the Eldorado Cinematograph Company in 1935, but they never completed the cinema. Instead it was finally built by the Odeon chain in its trademark Modernist style and a 2,115-seat theatre opened two years later.

Film history professor Ian Christie, who teaches at Birkbeck University, said the opening of an Odeon made a big difference to an area.

He added: “They were literally like flying saucers landing: big, white buildings with clearly defined lines, touching down in these small Victorian and Edwardian suburbs.

“They made quite an impression.”

The cinema had an expensive Compton Organ, complete with Melotone, Grand Piano and illuminated console,  which stayed in situ until 1964. When it was opened by the Mayor of Hampstead, guests included Dr Lewis Glover, Alexander Korda, the Maharajah of Jaipur and film stars Merle Oberon and ß. When it was last re-fitted, in 1992, Hampstead and Highgate MP Glenda Jackson cut an Odeon-shaped cake.

In the 1960s, the giant auditorium had a new lease of life when it became the home for a popular concert series on Sundays by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – but this did not stop the cinema being carved into smaller screens in 1973.



The recently renovated Odeon (IMAX) Cinema at Swiss Cottage is a great improvement. However, I would question the Odeon's selling of alcoholic beverages, to customers throughout the day. We really don't need or want to be sitting near to a person(s), who are under the influence of this filthy substance, whilst watching a movie. I would urge the management to review this policy immediately.


Odeon Muswell Hill is fab too, especially inside the big screen. Though it's been unsympathetically fiddled with over the years.

Post new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.