Coming soon? Filmgoers react as plans to refurb Holloway Road’s famous Odeon cinema submitted

PUBLISHED: 08:21 09 July 2018

The Gaumont in 1938. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

The Gaumont in 1938. Picture: Islington Local History Centre


With plans submitted to redevelop the famous Holloway Road Odeon, we decided it was time to take a look at its history. Val Cipriani chatted to filmgoers about their memories of the cinema.

The foyer and stairs in 1938. Picture: Islington Local History CentreThe foyer and stairs in 1938. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

When the Odeon Cinema on Holloway Road opened for the first time in 1938, it had a single screen that could accommodate up to 3,000 people and was designed to stage live variety shows as well as films.

Eighty years after, things have changed a great deal and are about to change more.

Odeon has registered a revamp plan for the building that, according to the documents submitted to Islington Council, will make it “one of its leading ‘traditional’ London cinemas, a flagship for the brand.”

The Holloway Road picturehouse, which opened as a Gaumont cinema, was designed by American architect Charles Howard Crane for a time when the cinema industry was still relatively new, and very different from now.

Bomb damage to the cinema in 1944. Picture: Islington Local History CentreBomb damage to the cinema in 1944. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

People who could afford it would go the cinema weekly, but new films would be released much less frequently than nowadays. That is why such a capacious screen was ideal.

Gaumont was a French production company and the oldest film company in the world. It was born in 1895, well before Hollywood and the American studios took over the big screen.

The first film shown at the Holloway Road cinema was John’s Ford “Hurricane”, starring Dorothy Lamour and Jon Hall.

“The opening night was a celebrity event, it was so important that it was broadcast on the radio,” historian and tour guide Jane Parker told the Gazette.

The Gaumont under construction in 1937. Picture: Islington Local History CentreThe Gaumont under construction in 1937. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

“If it happened today, it would be on television.”

During the Second World War, the building was damaged by two different rockets in 1944 and 1945, and the cinema remained closed for 14 years before reopening in 1958.

It then became an Odeon in 1962. In the following years, the space was reorganised first into three different screens and then to the current eight.

Various celebrities have said they are or used to be regulars of the cinema, including actress Lily James, former Labour leader Ed Milliband and former Spandau Ballet bassist and actor Martin Kemp.

The building is now classified as “at risk” by the town hall.

Officers have said it is in “slow decay” and in “poor general conditions, with cracking and damage to faience”.

According to the documents submitted by Odeon, the revamp plans to address these issues, “boosting the long-term commercial sustainability of the venue, and making a further positive contribution to the health of the town centre.”

“It was a very important building when Holloway was much more prominent in London than it is now,” said Ms Parker.

“Wouldn’t it be great to bring a bit of that splendour back? Especially since it is one of the two cinemas from the 1930s we have left in London.”

The other surviving cinema is the Everyman Cinema on Fortis Green Road in Muswell Hill, which reopened in 2016 after a £3million restoration.

If the revamp plans were to be approved, a new restaurant would also open on the ground floor, which would be linked to the cinema entrance foyer.

The area used to be occupied by shops, but is now vacant due to its poor conditions.

The documents state that turning it to a restaurant will help making it economically sustainable to refurbish the cinema.

“Originally there used to be a restaurant on the flat roof terrace,” said Ms Parker.

“We’ll see how it will turn out, but in that there is some continuity.”

The entrances will also be refurbished, while screen three will be removed to open up the foyer area.

The Odeon sign that is currently right above the entrance will be kept, and will be placed on the tower.

Christina Efthamaou lives in Holloway Road and has been seeing films at the Odeon since she was a young girl of 10, 40 years ago.

“I still come here monthly. I like it, it’s my local cinema, and it is comparatively cheap as well,” she told the Gazette.

“The building is absolutely beautiful.

“It will be nice to see it refurbished, but only if they keep the same character it has now.

“I don’t want the atmosphere to change.”

Do you have memories of the Odeon you’d like to share? Get in touch with the Gazette on 020 7433 0104 or email

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