Paramount (Odeon) Cinema, Birmingham.

Paramount/Odeon cinema, Birmingham

139 New Street,

Birmingham, B2 4NU


Original owners:  Paramount Theatres (Birmingham) Ltd.  Acquired by Odeon Theatres Ltd:  25th August 1942

Architects: Frank Thomas Verity,F.R.I.B.A. & Samuel Beverley, F.R.I.B.A.

Site Purchase cost:  £400.000.

Construction cost:  £750.000.

Seating Capacity:  1517 stalls, 922 circle.  Total original capacity: 2439 seats.

Date Opened:  Saturday 4th September 1937.

First feature shown:  “The Charge of the Light Brigade” starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Haviland.

First General Manager:  Leslie Holderness.

Building & cinema business extant. Present owners Odeon/AMC Theatres.



The Paramount Film Company of America had intended to build some fifty cinemas in the UK. For a variety of reasons this ambitious target fell well short.  The handful of Paramount Theatres that did materialise on the company’s wish list, Birmingham was included.

The company had previously opened six enormous  cinemas in main British cities including London, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool and Glasgow. Their seventh and final theatre was on a prime location in England’s second largest city, Birmingham.  The New Street site had been purchased from the King Edward’s Foundation for £400.000. Built on the former site of King Edward VI High School that was designed by Sir Charles Barry in 1831 and had occupied the ground for 105 years was demolished to make way for this mammoth cinema/theatre building constructed in red brick.

The architects entrusted with this important venue were London based Frank Verity & Samuel Beverley who had been responsible for other UK Paramount designed cinemas.  Now based in Tetbury, the practice that carries their surnames remains in business to the present day.

Photographed on it’s opening week, the narrow but impressive frontage of the Paramount, Birmingham.

With frontage space limited at this premium location, the main building housing the auditorium and stage was set back out of view, but running parallel to the New Street. A narrow frontage, with just enough space allowed to accommodate the entrance doors that were set back.

A large and deep ornamental canopy extended from the entrance and over the street pavement. Above this, standing alone, was an imposing art-décor dual pillared concaved tower that encased vertical fin signs that emblazoned the cinema’s name, Paramount,  in dazzling neon. It was claimed that to achieve the brilliant illumination of both the tower and canopy there was more than 2500′ feet of neon tubing driven by 50 transformers that certainly drew the attention of passers-by. 

The luxurious entrance foyer of the Paramount Theatre, New Street, Birmingham.

The design was similar to previous UK Paramount cinemas that Verity and Beverley had completed. The moderately sized main entrance lobby quickly gave patrons the impression that they were entering somewhere very special. The walls and staircases were lined with tall pink mirrors punctuated by panels of decorative plaster panels. An attractive scalloped dado ran in line with the richly carpeted staircases. A central set of stairs led down to the stalls flanked either side by staircases and landings leading to the circle foyer and café. The richly designed fibrous plaster ceiling was painted in similar pastel shades of gold and yellow tones, picked out in silver that complimented the general ambience of the foyer colour scheme. Subtle illumination was achieved by wall lights and and a large fibrous pendant fitting that was suspended centre ceiling.

The opulent auditorium had a large modern illuminated recessed ceiling bay, that gave an alternative to the common place dome features used in so many large cinemas of that period. A smaller recessed main ceiling  bay was positioned directly over the front stalls. The balcony side walls had richly  decorative panels that increased in height towards the stage. The anti proscenium walls had vertical moulded fibrous plaster designs that were lit at the base.

The under balcony ceiling in the stalls had a further oblong recessed feature that had concealed lighting and together with other ornate ceiling light fittings provided adequate house lighting.

The proscenium surround was formed of a deep elaborately designed plaster grill with an  illuminated cove on it’s leading edge. There were 1517 seats in the stalls with a further 922 in the circle. A capacity of 2439 seats.

There were full stage facilities and twelve dressing rooms. On the left hand side of the stage was a Compton 4Manual/10Rank theatre organ, complete with Melotone.  The two organ chambers were behind the proscenium grill work on the left with further amplification on the right of the proscenium grill that gave a fuller and balanced sound.

Paramount choice~ Considered by many to be the finest sound system of that era.

In the projection room Simplex projectors had been installed with Western Electric Mirrophonic sound. A slide lantern and four Stelmar spotlights completed the equipment layout.

Photographed on 9th August 1937. Spotlights and stage equipment on stage at the new Paramount Cinema as it nears completion. 

The Gala opening took place on Saturday 4th September 1937. The capacity audience stood for the National Anthem. A film of various film stars was shown congratulating Paramount on their latest British venue. This was followed by Paramount Sound News. Then a Technicolour short film titled “Trees” and a Popeye the Sailor cartoon-  “Morning, Noon and Night Club”.

The first feature film at the Paramount Theatre, New Street, Birmingham.

Al Bollington, the famous organist from the Plaza and Paramount Theatres in London, made an impact when he played the Compton organ that rose from the orchestra pit , semi rotating on the lift turntable. Then followed the opening feature film, “The Charge of the Light Brigade” starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Haviland.

Al Bollington

Charles Saxby and Gerald Shaw were guest organists during the opening month. The first resident organist, Arthur Raymond played the Compton until the outbreak of World War II when he retired. Harold Eadie was the resident organist in the 1940’s. The first post-war organist to be appointed was Leslie Cooper, followed by Allan Cornell and Charles Smitton from 1950-51. Foley Bates also played at the theatre on several occasions in the late 1950s.

On 25th August 1942, it came under the ownership of Odeon Theatres and re-branded Odeon on 29th November 1942.

A special show was brought to the New Street stage during 1951. A replica Royal Command Performance was staged with the famous Blackpool Tower organist playing the Compton organ during the show.

Its rise as a national destination was kicked off by a hugely successful Bill Haley & His Comets concert in 1957, starting three decades of fond musical memories for the city.

The cinema was given a major refurbishment in April of 1965. The building was closed while the re-vamp took place. Many were dismayed that so much of the original Art Deco features and fittings had been removed or covered over. The organ console had been lowered and covered under a ramp in front of the stage. There it remained until fifteen years later in 1976, it was uncovered and restoration began to bring this important feature back to it’s former glory.

Re-opening took place on 24th June 1965 with a stage performance by Cliff Richard and The Shadows followed by the feature film “Genghis Khan” starring Stephen Boyd, Omar Sharif and James Mason.

The New Street Compton organ. Restored to it’s former glory.

The organ console had been lowered and covered under a ramp in front of the stage. There it remained until fifteen years later in 1976 when it was uncovered and restoration began to bring this important feature back to it’s former glory.

The stage work was frequent throughout  the buildings history.

Attracting diverse International artists from Frank Sinatra to the Beatles, the star studded line up continued until 1988 when the building was divided up into a six screens complex.

The single screen Odeon closed it’s doors on 26th May 1988 and the conversion work commenced to transform the building into a multi screen venue. The conversion work also  meant that the two organ chambers were now in separate cinemas. Therefore, the Compton organ was sold and removed.

A further two screens were added in 1991 in the former café/restaurant and a basement bar.

and finally…..

It is the final one of the UK Paramount theatres to be showing movies. It remains in business as an 8 screen Odeon venue and is now owned by AMC Theatres. The seating capacity varies from 66 – 187 per screen.




click on other Paramount theatres listed below for their histories & photographs~

Paramount, Manchester.

Paramount, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Paramount, Liverpool.

Paramount, Leeds.

Paramount, Glasgow.

Paramount, Tottenham Court Road, London.