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Odeon Cinema

If World War Two hadn’t intervened, then this building might have looked very different. The structure that houses Mecca Bingo, on Flat Street, has stood since 1956, but its foundations and steel structure were put in place in May 1939.

It had been intended to complete the building by April 1940, but war meant construction was halted, and not resumed until 1955.

In 1937, Oscar Deutsch (1893-1941), the founder of Birmingham-based Odeon Cinemas, had his sights on South Yorkshire. New cinemas were to be built in Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham.

The Sheffield Odeon, on a wedge-shaped strip of land on Flat Street, promised to be an Art Deco masterpiece.

Plans were drawn up by Odeon-architects Harold William ‘Harry’ Weedon and William Calder Robson for a 2,326-seat cinema, containing four shops and a three-storey office block.

When war started in September the main steel frame was already up, but building was immediately halted by the cinema chain.

By November, it announced that work would recommence, but ongoing shortages of building supplies and labour meant it remained a building site for the next seventeen years.

When building recommenced in 1955, the plans had been re-drawn by Harry Weedon and his new partner, Robert Andrew Bullivant, for a 2,319-seat cinema without the shops and office block.

The Odeon Cinema opened in July 1956, by which time the chain had been sold to the Rank Organisation after Oscar Deutsch’s death.

The opening was attended by actress Dinah Sheridan and her husband, Sir John Davis, chairman of the Rank Organisation, the occasion memorable for a guard of honour provided by personnel from RAF Norton. A suitable tribute because the first film shown happened to be Reach for the Sky.

The Odeon might have looked a little less impressive than originally intended, but it was typical of 1950s construction, unusual for having a single-storey wedge-shape glass foyer projecting in front of the brick-clad auditorium.

There were 1,505 seats in the stalls and 814 in the balcony. Lighting was via three rows of light fittings hanging close to the ceiling and from concealed lights in two decorative panels each side of the proscenium opening.

The cinema was equipped with Todd-AO equipment, a widescreen, 70mm format developed by Mike Todd and the American Optical Company in the mid-1950s to compete with Cinerama. The process meant that there were long runs for classic movies like South Pacific and Cleopatra.

By the start of the 1970s, the Rank Organisation had two cinemas in the city centre, the other being the Gaumont in Barker’s Pool. Attendances had fallen, and not for the last time, the company decided to consolidate with one cinema in Sheffield.

The Sound of Music was the last film shown at the Odeon, reputedly ending a phenomenal fourteen month run. It closed in June 1971, and following refurbishment became a Top Rank Bingo Hall that opened three months later.

Later renamed Mecca, the building will soon celebrate fifty years, making it one of the longest surviving bingo halls in the country.