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 competition from US manufacturers.[2] The company also released several series of association football trading cards in the 1930s under the Player's brand.[3]

John Player & Sons Ltd.
Company typePrivate
PredecessorImperial Tobacco (1901–)
FounderJohn Player[1]
Defunct1901; 123 years ago (1901)
FateMerged with other companies to form Imperial Tobacco Co. in 1901, becoming a brand still active
Area served
John Player Special
Navy Cut
Footnotes / references
Carcinogenicity: IARC group 1

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]

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.

Workers and staff of John Player at a Christmas party in the 1920s

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 1950s, 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]

In the UK in 1968, in response to an increase in tobacco duty in the budget, Player's launched a new, cheaper brand, "Player's No.10". Priced at 3 s 2 d (16 p) for 20, it was the cheapest cigarette on the British market.[8]

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

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.[9]


Gold Leaf is the widely used cigarette brand in Pakistan

Player's still trades, but with a much-reduced workforce (down to about 700 employees due to increased efficiency) compared to the 20th century, when it was one of the Big Three employers associated with Nottingham, along with Boots the Chemists and the Raleigh Bicycle Company. Player's workforce peaked in the 1960s: subsequently the company's fortunes declined as awareness of the health effects of tobacco increased, and during the 1980s five of the firm's Nottingham factories closed with the loss of 3,000 jobs. Its current workforce is eclipsed by larger service sector employers in the city, such as Experian and Queen's Medical Centre.[10]

As of 2020, 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


As of 2020, 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 (discontinued as of 20 May 2020)
  • JPS Green Edge King Size and Superkings (discontinued as of 20 May 2020)
  • 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 and Superkings (discontinued as of 20 May 2020)
  • JPS Players Green Superkings (discontinued as of 20 May 2020)

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 Smooth
  • John Player Special
  • John Player Standard Blue
  • John Player Standard Silver
  • John Player Choice (discontinued)
  • Player's Special Blend

Besides 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.

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



In Ireland, Imperial Brands trade as John Player. The following John Player products are on the market in Ireland.

  • John Player Blue King Size
  • John Player Blue King Size 24s
  • John Player Blue King Size 27s
  • John Player Blue 100s
  • John Player Blue Compact
  • JPS Blue King Size
  • JPS Blue King Size 23s
  • JPS Blue King Size 28s
  • JPS Blue King Size 34s
  • JPS Blue 100s
  • JPS Red King Size
  • JPS Red King Size 23s
  • JPS Red 100s
  • JPS Silver Stream King Size
  • JPS Silvet Stream 100s
  • JPS Bright King Size
  • JPS Cool Green King Size (replaced JPS Crush Ball)
  • JPS Cool Green 100s (replaced JPS Green 100s)
  • Superkings Black
  • Superkings Bright (previously Blue)
  • Lambert & Butler Silver King Size
  • Regel King Size
  • Players Navy Cut
  • Drum The Original Tobacco
  • Drum Bright Blue
  • Golden Virginia Original
  • Golden Virginia Yellow
  • Riverstone Rolling Tobacco
  • John Player Blue Volume Tobacco
  • JPS Blue Volume Tobacco
  • JPS Silver Volume Tobacco

Sri Lanka


In Sri Lanka, Player's is manufactured by Ceylon Tobacco Company and is available in the following varieties.[11]

  • John Player Gold Leaf
  • John Player Gold
  • John Player Navy Cut

Sponsorship & marketing

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, the Forsythe Racing Champ Car team, and Norton motorcycle racing team.

Ford introduced the John Player Special limited edition Capri, (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 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, as the team switched to the Camel-sponsored yellow livery the following season.

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.

North America

Greg Moore in a 1996 IndyCar with Player's branding.

Imperial Tobacco Canada's Player's brands also sponsored Canadian auto racing for decades. After a blanket tobacco advertising ban was instituted in the Canadian Tobacco Act in 1988, Imperial created a new corporation, Player's Racing Ltd., that was strictly an auto racing promotion company. This took advantage of an exemption in the Act that allowed tobacco companies to sponsor "cultural events" using the company's proper name instead of a brand name. Player's Ltd. advertising looked nearly identical to Player's cigarette packs, and given that it was one of the few legal outlets for advertising, the company was extensively promoted both during race weekends and at other sporting events.

Player's Racing promoted a number of Canadian drivers, including 1995 Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar champion Jacques Villeneuve, whose Forsythe-Green Racing team carried a Player's Ltd livery. The team would later carry on in CART as Player's Forsythe Racing, which after the Tobacco Act was struck down as violating the Charter of Rights, was able to use Player's branding. The team was competitive and featured Canadian drivers Greg Moore, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani, and in 2003, Paul Tracy. Tracy would win the championship in 2003, just as a new Tobacco Act ban took full effect for auto racing in October 2003. The team would use a "GOODBYE, CANADA" theme for Tracy and Carpentier's final races and not have explicit Player's branding.

Motorcycle racing


John Player began sponsoring Norton motorcycle racing in November 1971.[12] 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.[13]

In the 1980s, Norton Motorcycles was revived and in 1988 John Player resumed racing sponsorship.[14] The racing succeeded again and in 1990–91 Norton produced a road-going version of its RCW588 racer, the Norton F1.[15] 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 Player's operated a steamboat, Hero, for promotional purposes.[16]

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.

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 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.[citation needed]

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 rugby union series in 1926,[17] and a cricket series in 1934.[18]



  • 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. ^ "New, cheaper cigarette". The Guardian. 26 March 1968. p. 14. Retrieved 27 January 2019. – via (subscription required)
  9. ^ Pevsner, 1979, page 255
  10. ^ Rossiter, Will; Smith, David J (2017). "Institutions, place leadership and public entrepreneurship: Reinterpreting the economic development of Nottingham" (PDF). Local Economy. 32 (4): 374–392. doi:10.1177/0269094217707280. Retrieved 18 February 2024.
  11. ^ "Ceylon Tobacco Company - Overview of our portfolio". Retrieved 13 October 2022.
  12. ^ Magrath, 1997, page 135
  13. ^ Magrath, 1997, page 138
  14. ^ Magrath, 1997, page 155
  15. ^ Magrath, 1997, page 156
  16. ^ "Hero". Steamboat Register. Steam Boat Association of Great Britain. April 2004. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
  17. ^ Rugby cards & stickers on Rugby Relics
  18. ^ Player's cricket cards on
  19. ^ A Salty Dog ... long-player – A parody, and its parodies
  20. ^ Pan Thunderball with Domino Letter
  21. ^ Thunderball: A letter from Domino, 4 May 2007