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Player's Navy Cut logo, circa 1914

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



In March 1828, William Wright set up a small tobacco factory in Broadmarsh, Nottingham. This business expanded and provided William Wright with a comfortable fortune. This business was purchased in 1877 by John Player. He was a man of vision and saw the need for expansion. He built the Castle Tobacco Factories in Radford, Nottingham- (just west of the city centre). He constructed three large factory blocks, but initially only one was used for the production and packaging of tobacco. The other two blocks were let to lace manufacturers, until the business had expanded sufficiently to utilise the additional space.[1] One of John Player's innovations was to offer pre-packaged tobacco. Prior to this, smokers would have purchased tobacco by weight from loose supplies. 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 his sons, John Dane Player and William Goodacre Player.

In 1901, in response to competitive threats from the USA, the Player's business was merged with the Imperial Tobacco Group (headquartered in Bristol. The Imperial group included other companies such as W. D. & H. O. Wills). However, Players cigarettes retained their own identity (in brands such as 'Navy Cut', 'No.6', 'John Player Special' and 'Gold Leaf') with their distinctive logo of a smoking sailor in a 'Navy Cut' cap.

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, placed quite ironically next to the headquarters of Boots the Chemists.

The old factories in Radford (especially the cavernous 'No.1 Factory') were gradually run down and the final demolition of the 'No.3 Factory', with its distinctive clock and rooftop 'John Player & Sons' sign, came in the late 1980s.


The Lotus 72 in Gold Leaf colours
The Lotus 77 in John Player Special colours

John Player's brands are also well known among motor racing fans, following their long association with the Lotus Formula One team, and Norton motorcycle racing team. 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. The JPS livery was also used by BMW in touring car racing in Australia during 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 in automotive series was banned in 2004.

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 under the new name of 'Guardian Lectures'.

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

Player's also sponsored motorcycle road-racing in the form of the JPS Norton which was ridden by Robert Dunlop.


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

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.

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 Silver (Discontinued)
  • John Player Specials (JPS) (original black and gold, and also white in the UK)
  • Richmond (King Size and Smooth in the UK)
  • Richmond Superkings
  • Richmond Menthols
  • John Player King Size (Known as '20 Blue' or 'Johnny Blue' in the Republic of Ireland)
  • All new John Player Standard
  • John Player (blue)
  • John Player (bright blue)
  • Silk Cut (purple, red, blue, silver)
  • Windsor Blue (light & smooth)

Cigarette cards

de Havilland DH 88 Comet, no. 9 of 50 from 'Civil Aircraft' 1935

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 is 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).

Cultural references


  1. ^ Nottingham. Official Guide. Tenth Edition. p.243


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