A former theatre turned cinema in the West End has been saved from conversion into a hotel after Camden council rejected an appeal from the developer.

What is today the Odeon Covent Garden was originally opened in 1931 as the Saville Theatre and is particularly notable for the stone frieze that runs around the building and the grand arched entrance decoration sitting in s solid wall of rusticated brickwork.

The frieze by Gilbert Bayes depicts Drama through the Ages, and is considered to be one of the most important works of art of this type of that era.

(c) Google Street View

Although opened in the 1930s as a theatre, in 1965, Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles leased it to put on both plays and music concerts — some of which were rather notorious. After Epstein’s death the theatre was sold to ABC and converted into two cinemas, and in 2001, was taken over by Odeon and is now a four-screen venue.

Although the developer didn’t plan to demolish the Grade II listed building, they did plan to gut the interior — most of which is admittedly fairly modern — and add more floors to the top, effectively turning the frontage into just a facade in front of their hotel.

Although there are limited historical survivors inside the building now, and the frontage would have been preserved, the addition of three glass-clad floors above the sombre brick frontage would have looked, frankly, quite ghastly.

And that was an improvement on their original plans for 9 floors to be added.

Planning requests in 2017 and 2018 were refused in 2019 and the developer filed an appeal, which was then subject to an inquiry.

That appeal was rejected by Camden Council yesterday.

Most of the reasons for refusal are to do with the external effects of the conversion, and only one relates to the function of the building as an entertainment venue. The offer of small replacement cinemas in the basement was clearly not acceptable.

The planning permission refusal won’t stop the cinema from being converted into something else one day, but whatever it will be, it’ll almost certainly have to be a cultural venue.

One upside of the whole process has been more detailed investigations of the interior, and while what you see now is modern, the Theatres Trust discovered that some of the original theatre’s fixtures had survived behind the modern cladding and inserted walls.

Maybe one day it’ll be turned back into a grand venue, with a restored interior that once more reflects the impressive exterior.


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  1. Melvyn says:

    Given the state of many old theatres with news of bits of ceiling falling down and lack of accessibility then perhaps converting all or part of this building back into a theatre might make sense in the post covid era !

  2. Facu says:

    Jimi Hendrix famously played there in 1967, with Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Eric Clapton in the audience. He opened with a version of Sgt Peppers, which had just been released the night before. In Pauls words:

    “It would be one of his first gigs in London. Jimi was a sweetie, a very nice guy. I remember him opening at the Saville on a Sunday night, 4 June 1967. Brian Epstein used to rent it when it was usually dark on the Sunday. Jimi opened, the curtains flew back and he came walking forward, playing ‘Sgt. Pepper’, and it had only been released on the Thursday so that was like the ultimate compliment. It’s still obviously a shining memory for me, because I admired him so much anyway, he was so accomplished. To think that that album had meant so much to him as to actually do it by the Sunday night, three days after the release. He must have been so into it, because normally it might take a day for rehearsal and then you might wonder whether you’d put it in, but he just opened with it. It’s a pretty major compliment in anyone’s book. I put that down as one of the great honours of my career. I mean, I’m sure he wouldn’t have thought of it as an honour, I’m sure he thought it was the other way round, but to me that was like a great boost.
    Paul McCartney
    Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

  3. Andrew Gwilt says:

    Could of been worse. Knocked down to make way for flats. If it wasn’t a listed building.

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