John Player & Sons
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. 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.
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.
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 WD & HO Wills and the new group was run from Wills' head office in Bristol. However, Player's 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, 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). 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.
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.
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.
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.
John Player began sponsoring Norton motorcycle racing in November 1971. 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.
In the 1980s Norton Motorcycles was revived and in 1988 John Player resumed racing sponsorship. The racing succeeded again and in 1990–91 Norton produced a road-going version of its RCW588 racer, the Norton F1. In 1991 Norton again commercially declined and John Player withdrew sponsorship for a second time.
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.
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, "Player's" Navy Cut, "Players" and John Player Special (JPS) 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's 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.
As of 2017 John Player Special (JPS) sell the following cigarettes in the UK.
- JPS Black King Size
- JPS Blue Filter King Size and Superkings
- JPS Silver King Size and Superkings
- JPS Menthol Crushball King Size
- JPS Menthol King Size and Superkings
- JPS Triple Flow King Size
They also sell a lower cost product marketed under the JPS Players Brand)
- JPS Players Lights King Size and Superkings
- JPS Players Filters King Size and Superkings
- JPS Players Menthol Crushball King Size
- JPS Players Menthol 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
- Player's Special Blend
Aside of cigarettes, John Player & Sons also markets a line of rolling tobacco in Canada, 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
- Player's Gold Leaf
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.
In popular culture
- The cover art for Procol Harum's 1969 album A Salty Dog and Haruomi Hosono's 1973 album Hosono House are pastiches of the Player's Navy Cut sailor logo.
- In Ian Fleming's 1961 James Bond novel Thunderball, Bond's love interest Domino Vitali fantasises at length about the sailor depicted on the Player's Navy Cut logo.
- Nottingham: Official Guide (10th ed.). p. 243.
- Tinkler, Penny (2006). Smoke Signals: Women, Smoking and Visual Culture in Britain (English ed.). Oxford: Berg. ISBN 1845202678.
- Pevsner, 1979, page 255
- Magrath, 1997, page 135
- Magrath, 1997, page 138
- Magrath, 1997, page 155
- Magrath, 1997, page 156
- "Hero". Steamboat Register. Steam Boat Association of Great Britain. April 2004. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
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