The Odeon Theatre – built by the Oscar Deutsch chain of Odeon Theatres. It opened on 13th March 1937 with “Song of Freedom”.
Designed by architect Harry Weedon and Budge Reid from the Harry Weedon Partnership. The Odeon theatre was typical of the so-called Odeon Art Deco style of architecture. The facade was in cream faience tiles and had a tall, slender ‘slab’ tower feature located on the left-hand side, upon which was the theatre’s name. To the right of the entrance a parade of shop units were let to local businesses.
Mollo & Egan
Inside the auditorium, seating was in a semi-stadium style with no overhang on the raised balcony section. Illumination was via troughs across the ceiling which contained concealed lighting. There were six decorative panels on the splay walls each side of the proscenium opening which were designed by interior designers Mollo & Egan. A total capacity of 1,246 split between 958 seats in the stalls and 288 in the balcony.
Situated slightly away from the town centre on Brook Street. As mentioned earlier in the article, the first film shown was “Song of Freedom” (1936; director: J Elder Wills) starring Paul Robeson.
The Man Who Would Be King
Rather ominously in 1972, The Odeon Group began a policy of splitting the weeks up into three days of bingo and four days of cinema. Four years later on 15th May 1976, the cinema closed with a showing of “The Man Who Would Be King” by Rudyard Kipling. Starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine and directed by John Huston. It was converted into a Top Rank Bingo Club which was later operated by Mecca Bingo. Mecca pulled out of the building in May 1999 in favour of newly-built premises on Smithfield Road.
The Odeon was converted into a Chicago Rock Cafe which was in the former front stalls area and Liquid Nightclub which used the rear of the building and the foyer areas.
A Personal Account
We’ve managed to find these fascinating comments about the cinema from ex-relief projectionist, Peter Davies. Please bear in mind these are from 2007 so some of them are a little outdated;
“I worked as a relief projectionist at Wrexham Odeon during the early 70s until its closure. I was based at the nearby Chester Odeon. The chief projectionist was Mervyn Howell; he operated a well-maintained projection suite supported by another projectionist called Jean.
“The auditorium, although shared by Top Rank Bingo, still retained some of its original features that were typical of the 1930 art-deco Odeon design. Mervyn battled to retain as much of the cinema lighting, etc as was possible during this difficult time. He, along with several members of staff, campaigned against the allocation of ‘cinema days’ being removed completely without success and the cinema eventually gave way to full-time bingo.
“Very Discerning Filmgoers”
“Wrexham was without an Odeon until a new site was built. It returned to the town in 1997, this time at Plas Coch and offering a choice of seven screens. I returned to Wrexham as Chief Technician for this new multiplex. Wrexham has very discerning filmgoers and the new Odeon became a big hit with them. With the arrival of digital projection imminent, Wrexham audiences are in line for even better technical presentations than ever before and the future of cinema in this great town seems secure. Who would have thought that in the mid-70s?
“My work history started with a stay of eight years starting early 1962 at the ABC Regal Chester. I then moved on to the Classic (Tatler), later the Odeon Chester from 1971 (I was promoted to Chief Technician (CT) in 1977). My next post was at the Odeon Bromborough multiplex for its opening in 1991 as CT. I also opened the technical operation at the Wrexham Odeon in 1997 and was the dual-site CT over the Chester and Wrexham Odeons from 2005 to 2007.”
We also found a comment from a member of a local paranormal group. They carried out an investigation on the old Odeon and came up with some interesting findings, one being a spirit of the former projectionist! If anybody could corroborate that story, we’d like to hear it!
While researching this article, we came across some interesting stories about other historical cinemas in Wrexham. We’ll be featuring those in a different article very soon. Something to look forward to…
We thank wrexham-history.com for this article – read it here.