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John Player

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John Player

John Player & Sons, known simply as Player's, was a tobacco and cigarette manufacturer based in Nottingham, England. Today it is a part of the Imperial Tobacco Group.


In March 1832, William Wright set up a small tobacco factory in Broadmarsh, Nottingham. This business expanded and earned Wright a comfortable fortune. John Player bought the business in 1877. He had the Castle Tobacco Factories built in Radford, Nottingham, just west of the city centre.[1] He had three large factory blocks built, but initially only one was used to process and pack tobacco. The other two blocks were let to lace manufacturers until the business had expanded enough to use the additional space.[2]

One of John Player's innovations was to offer pre-packaged tobacco. Before this, smokers would have bought tobacco by weight from loose supplies and cigarette papers to roll them in. He also adopted a registered trade mark as a guarantee to the public that the goods could be relied on.

The business was run later by Player's sons John Dane Player and William Goodacre Player.[3]

In 1901, in response to competitive threats from the USA, Player's merged with the Imperial Tobacco Group. The largest constituent of Imperial Tobacco was W. D. & H. O. Wills and the new group was run from Wills' head office in Bristol. However, Players retained its own identity with cigarette brands such as 'Navy Cut', 'No.9', 'John Player Special' and 'Gold Leaf' and its distinctive logo of a smoking sailor in a 'Navy Cut' cap, and loose tobacco brands such as 'No Name'.

Player's Medium Navy Cut was the most popular by far of the three Navy Cut brands (there was also Mild and Gold Leaf). Two-thirds of all the cigarettes sold in Britain were Players and two-thirds of these was branded as Players Medium Navy Cut. In January 1937, Players sold nearly 3.5 million cigarettes (which included 1.34 million in London0.[4] The popularity of the brand was mostly amongst the middle class and in the South of England. it was smoked in the north but other brands were locally more popular.[4]

A new factory (the 'Horizon' factory) was opened in the early 1970s on Nottingham's industrial outskirts, with better road access and more effective floor space, next to the headquarters of Boots the Chemists.

The old factories in Radford, especially the cavernous No 1 Factory which occupied the whole area between Radford Boulevard and Alfreton Road, bordered by Player Street and Beckenham Road were gradually run down. The No 2 Factory, facing onto Radford Boulevard with its distinctive clock (now plinthed in the retail park on the site) and the No 3 factory (which faced onto Churchfield lane) with its rooftop 'John Player & Sons' sign, were demolished in the late 1980s. The iron railings and gates onto Radford Boulevard from the present retail park are the ones that surrounded No 2 Factory – the large gates (present vehicle access) were the entrance to the factory yard between No 2 and No 3 factories and the smaller gates were the pedestrian entrances to No 2 factory itself.[5]


John Player's brands are well known in motor racing from their long association with the Lotus Formula One team, and Norton motorcycle racing team.

Ford introduced the John Player Special limited edition, (known as the JPS) in March 1975. Available only in black or white, the JPS featured yards of gold pinstriping to mimic the Formula 1 livery, gold-coloured wheels, and a bespoke upgraded interior of beige cloth and carpet trimmed with black.

Car racing

John Player's sponsorship of Team Lotus began with the Lotus 49 in Gold Leaf colours at the 1968 Monaco Grand Prix, continued with the Lotus 72, which changed to the black and gold John Player Special colours in 1972 and ended in 1986 with the Lotus 98T.

BMW owned the JPS livery in touring car racing in Australia in the 1980s. In 1984 BMW released a limited-edition road version of its 323i touring car in JPS colours to the Australian market.

Player's brands also sponsored the Forsythe Championship Racing team in Champ Car racing until tobacco advertising through Canadian brands was banned midway through 2003.

Motorcycle racing

John Player began sponsoring Norton motorcycle racing in November 1971.[6] The racing was successful and Norton produced a version of the Norton Commando in John Player colours to exploit it. However, Norton's NVT parent company commercially declined and John Player withdrew sponsorship in 1974.[7]

In the 1980s Norton Motorcycles was revived and in 1988 John Player resumed racing sponsorship.[8] The racing succeeded again and in 1990–91 Norton produced a road-going version of its RCW588 racer, the Norton F1.[9] In 1991 Norton again commercially declined and John Player withdrew sponsorship for a second time.

Other events

The company also sponsored an influential series of celebrity lectures at the National Film Theatre between 1968 and 1973. Well over 100 international film stars took the stage to introduce screenings and discuss their career. The series was revived at the end of the 1970s as the Guardian Lectures.

In the 1970s Players operated a steamboat, Hero, for promotional purposes.[10]

Player's sponsored the Canadian Open tennis championship in the 1980s.

From 1969 to 1987 John Player sponsored the John Player Sunday League for English county cricket clubs.


Player's still trades, but with a much reduced workforce (down to about 700 employees due to increased efficiency). It is no longer one of Nottingham's 'Big Three' employers (the other two being Boots the Chemists and Experian).

Today, John Player Special and John Player King Size are manufactured by Imperial Tobacco, whereas John Player Gold Leaf is manufactured by British American Tobacco (in some countries), and ranks as one of the best selling and most popular tobacco products in Pakistan. It's also present in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the Gulf. In South Asia, it is one of the biggest brands in the High category brand list.

The JPS brand has also been repositioned in the last several years and is now a UK mid-price cigarette brand.

Player's cigarettes are available in the following varieties:

  • Player's Plain (unfiltered)
  • Player's Filtered (regular — now known as Player's Original)
  • Player's Medium
  • Player's Light (now referred to as Player's Rich)
  • Player's Light Smooth
  • Player's Extra Light
  • Player's Navy Cut
  • John Player Specials (JPS) (original black and gold, and also silver, blue and menthol in the UK)
  • Richmond (Regular, Gold and Menthol in King Size and Superking sizes)
  • John Player King Size (Known as '20 Blue' or 'Johnny Blue' in the Republic of Ireland)
  • All new John Player Standard
  • John Player (blue) (also known as Johnnie Blues)
  • John Player (bright blue)
  • John Player's Gold Leaf (Special)

In Canada, Player's is manufactured by Imperial Tobacco Canada and is available in the following varieties, in both regular and king size:

  • Player's Original Flavour
  • Player's Rich Flavour
  • Player's Smooth Flavourand
  • Player's Plain
  • Player's Black & Red
  • Player's Black & Gold
  • Player's Black & Silver
  • John Player Special
  • John Player Standard Bold
  • John Player Standard Blue
  • John Player Standard Silver
  • Player's Special Blend

Aside of cigarettes, John Player & Sons also markets a line of rolling tobacco in the UK and other European countries. The rolling tobacco is typically portioned into 12.5, 25, and 50 gram bags.

The rolling tobacco is available in the following varieties:

  • John Player Special Red
  • John Player Special Blue
  • John Player Special Silver
  • John Player Halfzware Shag

Cigarette cards

Player's were one of the first UK tobacco companies to include sets of general interest cards in their packs of cigarettes. One of the first sets, produced in 1893, was 'Castles and Abbeys'. These cards were generally produced in sets of 50 and have since become highly collectable. Other sets produced include 'Footballers' (1926), 'Civil Aircraft' (1935) and 'Motor Cars' (1936).

John Player & Sons issued more than 200 sets of cards and some were reprinted in the 1990s.

Cultural references




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