John Player & Sons

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John Player & Sons Ltd.
FateMerged to form Imperial Tobacco Co. in 1901
SuccessorImperial Brands
Founded1877; 142 years ago (1877)
FounderJohn Player [1]
John Player Special
Navy Cut

John Player & Sons, most often known simply as Player's, was a tobacco and cigarette manufacturer based in Nottingham, England. In 1901, the company merged with other companies to form The Imperial Tobacco Company to face competitive from the US manufacturers.[2] The company also released several series of association football trading cards in the 1930s under the Player's brand.[3]

Nowadays the brands "Player" and "John Player Special" are owned and commercialised by Imperial Brands.


In March 1820, William Wright set up a small tobacco factory in Craigshill, Livingston, West Lothian. 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.[4] He had three large factory blocks built, but initially only one was used to process and pack tobacco. The other two blocks were loaned out to lace manufacturers until the business had expanded enough to use the additional space.[5]

1 ounce (28 g) tin for Player's "Navy Cut" tobacco

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.

John Player died in December 1884 and for the next nine years, the business was run by a small group of family friends until W G and J D Player were ready to take over the firm in 1893. The business became a private limited company in 1895, with a share capital of £200,000.[2]

The business was run later by Player's sons John Dane Player and William Goodacre Player.[6]

In 1901, in response to competitive threats from the US, 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.[2] Player's retained its own identity with cigarette brands such as Navy Cut, No. 9, John Player Special, and Gold Leaf; loose tobacco brands such as No Name; and its distinctive logo of a smoking sailor in a navy-cut cap.

2 ounces (57 g) tin for Player's No Name brand tobacco. The tin was made in the 20th century as it bears the Imperial Tobacco Group 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, mild being today's rich flavour). Two thirds of all the cigarettes sold in Britain were Player's and two thirds of these were branded as Player's Medium Navy Cut. In January 1937, Player's sold nearly 3.5 million cigarettes (which included 1.34 million in London).[7] 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.[7]

Production continued to grow until at its peak in the late 1950's, Player's was employing 11,000 workers (compared to 5,000 in 1926) and producing 15 brands of pipe tobacco and 11 brands of cigarettes.[2]

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. On 15 April 2014, Imperial Tobacco announced that the Horizon factory would close in early 2016, bringing an end to cigarette and tobacco manufacture in Nottingham after over 130 years.

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.[8]


1975 Ford Capri Mk II 2.0 JPS

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[edit]

John Player's sponsorship of Team Lotus began with the Lotus 49 in Gold Leaf colours in the 1968 Tasman Series. It continued with the Lotus 49 and Lotus 72 in Formula One, changed to the black and gold John Player Special colours in 1972 and ended in 1986 with the Lotus 98T.

In Australia, JPS Team BMW competed in the Australian Touring Car Championship between 1981 and 1987, with Jim Richards winning the series in 1985 and 1987. In 1981 BMW released a limited-edition road version of its 323i touring car in JPS colours to the Australian market and another in 1984.

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[edit]

John Player began sponsoring Norton motorcycle racing in November 1971.[9] 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.[10]

In the 1980s Norton Motorcycles was revived and in 1988 John Player resumed racing sponsorship.[11] The racing succeeded again and in 1990–91 Norton produced a road-going version of its RCW588 racer, the Norton F1.[12] In 1991 Norton again commercially declined and John Player withdrew sponsorship for a second time.

Other events[edit]

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 Player's operated a steamboat, Hero, for promotional purposes.[13]

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.


Pack of Player's Extra Lights shown on a billboard in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. ca. 1980

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).

As of 2018, the Player's Navy Cut, Players and John Player Special (JPS) brands are manufactured by Imperial Brands in the UK, 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 is also present in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Arab States of the Persian Gulf. In South Asia, it is one of the biggest brands in the High category brand list.

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

United Kingdom[edit]

As of 2017, John Player Special (JPS) sell the following cigarettes in the UK:

  • JPS Black King Size
  • JPS Real Blue King Size and Superkings
  • JPS Silver Stream King Size and Superkings
  • JPS Crushball King Size
  • JPS Green Edge King Size and Superkings
  • JPS Triple Flow King Size

They also sell a lower cost product marketed under the JPS Players Brand:

  • JPS Players Real Red King Size and Superkings
  • JPS Players Bright Blue King Size and Superkings
  • JPS Players Crushball King Size
  • JPS Players Green Superkings

Also the following rolling tobacco in 30g and 50g pouches:

  • JPS Hand Rolling Tobacco
  • JPS Players Tobacco
  • Gold Leaf JPS Quality Blend Tobacco


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 Flavour
  • Player's Plain
  • Player's Black & Red
  • Player's Black & Gold
  • Player's Black & Silver
  • John Player Special
  • John Player Standard Quebec
  • John Player Standard Bold
  • John Player Standard Blue
  • John Player Standard Silver
  • John Player Choice
  • Player's Special Blend

Aside of cigarettes, John Player & Sons also markets a line of rolling tobacco in Canada, the UK, and several 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
  • Player's Gold Leaf

Cigarette cards[edit]

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 Street Cries (cries of street vendors) in 1913 and 1916; Footballers (1926); Civil Aircraft (1935); Motor Cars (1936) and a Coronation Series in 1937. John Player & Sons issued more than 200 sets of cards and some were reprinted in the 1990s.

In sports, Player's released several cards series, mostly association football collections. One of them was the "Cup Winners" series, featuring FA Cup winning teams and the illustrated "Hints on association football" in 1934, where some football movements (kicks, passes, defensive tactics, etc.) were shown.[3] Player's also released a cricket series in 1934.

In popular culture[edit]


  • Magrath, Derek (1997) [1991]. Norton the Complete Story. Crowood Classics. Rambsbury: The Crowood Press. ISBN 1-86126-062-8.
  • Pevsner, Nikolas (1979). Nottinghamshire. Harmondsworth: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300096364.


  1. ^ A history of John Player & Sons, Adapted from a talk given by Dr. Dan O'Neill on 24 May, 2016 at Lakeside Arts, University of Nottingham
  2. ^ a b c d John Player and Sons Ltd., tobacco manufacturers on The National Archives
  3. ^ a b The History of Football Cigarette Cards by John Simkin, on Spartacus Educational, September 1997
  4. ^ Council, Nottingham City. "Oops!". Nottingham City Council. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  5. ^ Nottingham: Official Guide (10th ed.). p. 243.
  6. ^ Archives, The National. "The Discovery Service". Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  7. ^ a b Tinkler, Penny (2006). Smoke Signals: Women, Smoking and Visual Culture in Britain (English ed.). Oxford: Berg. ISBN 1845202678.
  8. ^ Pevsner, 1979, page 255
  9. ^ Magrath, 1997, page 135
  10. ^ Magrath, 1997, page 138
  11. ^ Magrath, 1997, page 155
  12. ^ Magrath, 1997, page 156
  13. ^ "Hero". Steamboat Register. Steam Boat Association of Great Britain. April 2004. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2011.

External links[edit]