Man who watched over 7,000 films at Swiss Cottage cinema named Odeon’s ‘most devoted fan’

John Gale at the Odeon Swiss Cottage. Picture: Odeon

John Gale at the Odeon Swiss Cottage. Picture: Odeon - Credit: Tom Dymond/REX

A man who has visited the same cinema at least once a week for 70 years – seeing some 7,300 films – has been named “the most devoted film fan” by one of the largest picture house chains in Europe.

John Gale says the first film he saw was The Dolly Sisters. Picture: Odeon

John Gale says the first film he saw was The Dolly Sisters. Picture: Odeon - Credit: Tom Dymond/REX

John Gale, 75, was awarded the extraordinary title having watched some 657,000 minutes – or 456 days – of film at the Odeon in Swiss Cottage, becoming a regular part of the cinema’s furniture for almost its entire life.

Mr Gale told the Ham&High: “It has become a very special place for me – my second home. Needless to say, I’ve seen many changes over the years. It began with one beautiful screen and the first film I saw here, in 1945, was The Dolly Sisters.

“Back then we used to try to rush out before the end of the film so we didn’t have to stand and sing ‘God Save the King’ as they played it through the auditorium. It seems mad now – try that today and the screen would probably be pelted with tomatoes.

“But that was an era when films were truly magnificent, with great musicals and fantastic epics.

“Film has deteriorated somewhat with too much violence and sex.

“The 70s were also a bit of a low point for me – too much sci-fi. I hated Star Wars.

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“But there are still some special ones coming out and I can’t thank the staff enough here – they are brilliant and the cinema is great.”

The cinema was opened in 1937 to film Farewell Again by the Mayor of Hampstead, with guests including Hungarian director Alexander Korda and film star Merle Oberon.

The picture house has since seen many changes, including a brief spell where it was regularly visited by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother after becoming home to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra during the 1960s.

But while its original one-screen auditorium, complete with Compton theatre organ and grand piano, made way for the current 20 metre-high IMAX screen, Mr Gale has remained a constant feature.

Since 1945, the retired hairdresser has been visiting the cinema sometimes three times a week for 70 of its 78 years.

The film-lover, who has lived in Belsize Avenue for most of his life, has now spent well over a year in total inside the picture house.

To recognise his incredible feat, last week he was recognised by the Odeon as its “most devoted film fan”, giving him a free pair of tickets for every year he has been going to the cinema.

James VanDyke, general manager of the cinema, said: “John’s is an incredible achievement. It’s truly an honour to meet a loyal guest who’s seen more films than all our staff combined.”