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Odeon Cinema, Union Street, Bristol

Memories of Bristol Cinema


Oscar Deutsch's grand Odeon picture house, Broadmead - Bristol's best surviving cinema from the boom days of the thirties - It stands on the site of Fry's chocolate company office building before the move to Keynsam in the 1920s.


The Odeon. Union Street, 1938-present


When the Odeon in Union Street opened on 16 July 1938, owner Oscar Deutsch claimed it was 'the finest cinema in the country'. Deutsch owned lots of cinemas, many of which looked alike. The Odeon was formally opened by Lord Apsley, with the Royal Marine Artillery Mounted Band providing the music. The opening film was Mad About Music, starring Deanna Durbin and Herbert Marshall.


The cinema was built on the site of J.S. Fry & Sons' No. 5 chocolate factory, a five-storey building which dated back to 1889 and was finished in Cornish granite. Fry's moved to a new factory at Somerdale, Keynsham in 1921 and the buildings lay empty for a while before being demolished.


The Odeon had a circular, floodlit tower with reflective black armoured-glass windows and a biscuit-coloured exterior, designed by T. Cecil Howitt. Inside were 1,900 seats, 1,000 in the stalls and 900 in the balcony. It is said that Mrs Deutsch was responsible for the interior design. Seating and sight lines were in accordance with the best modern practice and ample legroom was provided. The same high-class seating was fitted throughout the theatre; the position of the seat determined the ticket price.


During the Second World War, incendiary bombs landed on the roof but projectionist Don Cottle climbed up and dealt with them.


The cinema was only closed for a few days during wartime, when the river Frome flooded the basement.


On 29 May 1946, the picture house was the scene of a murder. Manager Robert Parrington Jackson was shot twice in his office but no one in the cinema heard the shots, as they coincided with gunshot in the film that was being shown, The Lights That Failed. As no money had been stolen, it was widely believed that Jackson was shot by a jealous man. No one was ever arrested and the case remained unsolved until 1989, when a small-time crook by the name of Billy 'The Fish' Fisher confessed to his son on his deathbed. Fisher said that he and Dukey Leonard had travelled from South Wales to rob the cinema but panicked when the manager returned to his office. The police accepted his confession and closed the case.


There have also been reported cases of psychic manifestations in the cinema but they seem to have stopped after the Revd Lionel Fanthorpe and psychic Rosie Malone were called in to investigate.


In 1967, the Odeon was given a major facelift costing £100,000. It was given the largest screen in the city, but the era of the multiscreen cinema was fast approaching and the big screen didn't last long. By 1974, the Odeon had been converted into a multiscreen cinema. The supercinemas on the edge of town were the next threat and in December 1983 the Odeon was gutted and rebuilt at a cost of nearly £4 million. It reopened on 13 June 1985 with the new James Bond film A View to Kill.The entrance to the cinema was now much further up the hill in Union Street and the old foyer had become a Mothercare shop.


Many celebrities have visited the cinema over the years, including Kay Kendall, Norman Wisdom and the stars of the 1953 film Rob Roy, who attended the premiere there. Thousands of Bristolians will remember seeing The Sound of Music at the Odeon. Queues stretched to the top of Union Street and the film ran for over a year, with many people coming back to see it again and again.


See 2009 View of The Odeon Cinema




On May 29th 1946, at the Odeon Cinema in Broadmead Bristol an invisible and undiscovered killer shot Parrington Jackson once through the temple. There were six shots in the cinema that night; five were from the 6.30 showing of the film The Light that failed. No one heard the sixth. It seems that the clever murderer timed the fatal bullet to coincide with the fictional gunshots, killing the cinema manager with an eerie premeditation. No one will ever know who killed Parrington; the mystery will never be solved, but those who visit and work in the Odeon Cinema cannot quite forget what happened on that evening in May 1946.......see story below.



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Taken on December 1, 2007