After the revival of The Rex in Berkhamsted, a sequel is shaping up

The Odyssey cinema in St Albans.
The Odyssey cinema in St Albans.

The Berkhamsted-based brains behind plans for a cinema with the UK’s largest screen outside of London have used the revival of the town’s iconic picture house as their template.

The Odyssey is on schedule to open on the site of a former Odeon, which has now been derelict for 15 years.

Its development is being led by James Hannaway, who brought The Rex back to life in 2004 after it had lain empty for 16 years.

And the same Berkhamsted firm that managed that development now working on The Odyssey in St Albans.

But it has been no walk in the park for chartered surveyors Robert Martell and Partners.

Senior project manager Adam Byng said: “The Rex was a much smaller job and the building was not derelict, so there was not as much logistically to look at. It was more about fitting out the building internally.

“Here, we have had to completely re-render the front, the roof and all the guttering had to be replaced.

“It is more complex than The Rex and on a larger scale – it will seat 450 people: The Rex seats about half that number.”

Showings of films at The Rex – recently named best cinema in the UK in the first Guardian Film Awards – regularly sell out.

Queues can stretch around the corner into the High Street from the Three Close Lane venue when new tickets go on sale at the end of each month.

Late-comers have to rely on an on-the-night raffle system to buy a small number of tickets held back.

The Rex originally opened in 1938, seven years after the St Albans site, then known as Capitol Cinema, was redeveloped to its current configuration. The London Road site has been home to a cinema since 1908, but the original building burned down in a fire in 1927.

It was bought by the Odeon chain in 1945, which ran the complex until it shut down in 1995 at much the same time as Hemel Hempstead’s town centre Odeon, both victims of the new multiplex development at Jarman Park.

At the time there seemed to be little future for single screen cinemas.

The Rex had been converted from a single to a two-screen venue with bingo hall in the mid 1970s before finally calling it a day in 1988.

But Mr Hannaway was determined that the iconic building should be restored, and is equally passionate about the St Albans project.

Mr Byng said: “The St Albans Odeon had four screens and some sort of bingo hall as well. They put in smaller screens to get more people in and sell more tickets.

“We ripped out all the steelworks and turned it into one big room, as was intended when the original cinema was built in the 1930s.

“Economically it would have probably been better to have four screens – but I do not think that’s what the client wanted.

“He wanted something more like The Rex with room for all of the tables without having everyone crammed in.”

Like The Rex, The Odyssey will have a cafe and a bar when it is finished, where you can enjoy wine and nibbles as you watch your film.

More than £3m has so far been raised for the development.

All that is now left to do is install the screen once £40,000 can be found to pay for it.

Writing on The Rex’s website, Mr Hannaway said: “We continue to fight for funding more than ever. We have tried most banks, but the list is not exhausted.

“Rest assured, we have not stopped nor will we until the beautiful Odyssey’s doors are open for you.”

To learn more about or donate towards the Odyssey, visit