Player's Past

Player's Past Blog

The Art of Advertising John Player’s

Just a quick blog to remind everyone that the exhibition is on at Nottingham Castle until the 25th September.  We’ve worked in partnership with Nottingham’s Smokefree Coordinator to ensure a balanced view is given, and that it is clear that this is a display of historical works that emerged in an era when attitudes were very different to those of today.

If anyone has visited please do let us know what you think.  We’ve had some great feedback from former employees, but it would be interesting to hear what neutral observers think.


The Sailor and the Show Cards

We’ve now finished our creative writing project, after filming over two days in Nottingham.

In this shot we can see the group, chatting after they have tracked down the famous Player’s sailor.  We had a few wardrobe malfunctions on the day – but managed to keep Adam’s trouser’s up with string.  We had lots of fun recreating images from adverts and polishing those acting skills.

The film is now in editing and will be ready for the exhibition The Art of Advertising John Player’s which opens to the public on the 2nd July.  We’ll be having a sneek preview a few days before, with popcorn provided (of course).


Harry Woolley and John Player

Harry Woolley and John Player

Harry Woolley was a significant artistic contributor to Player’s advertising.  He also illustrated for the many cigarette card series’ that were produced for Player’s and other tobacco companies.  Unfortunately it has been very difficult to find a great deal of information about him, but here are some interesting facts;  

He was born in Hurst, Lancashire in 1880, grew up in Ashton Under Lyme and moved to Bristol c.1911.  He was responsible for preparing artwork for some or all of the illustrations appearing in at least 25 different sets of cigarette cards, adverts and show cards.  He exhibited in 1912-1913 at the Royal Academy and Royal Society of Miniature Painters.  He also wrote and illustrated books. 

A favourite advert in our archive was painted by him in 1924 and it advertises Player’s ‘Weights’.  The advert shows a young ballerina in a pink costume, with her back turned but looking out of the picture at the viewer.  She is not smoking, but two ‘Weights’ cigarette packets have been drawn in a circular border in the bottom left hand corner of the picture.   

The cigarette card collections he illustrated for John Player include; Cricketers 1934, Famous Irish-Bred Horses 1936 and Aircrafts of the RAF 1938.  He died near Salisbury in Wiltshire in 1959.


London Trip

Our creative writing project is now well underway, and on Wednesday we headed to London with some of the participants.  The plan was to get people to know each other a little better, while introducing the group to methods of museum display. 

Our main reason for choosing the V&A was the chance to see the Imperial Chinese Robes exhibition.  We’ll be hosting our own Chinese silk exhibition at Nottingham Castle in 2011, so we wanted to see how our young people thought such material could be displayed.  The objects were indeed very grand and the information about symbolism really useful, but the half term crowds made it tricky to stand back and reflect.

We then split into groups, as people headed to near by museums of interest.  I ended up paying my first ever visit to the Science Museum, and took some time to explore the large scale objects on the ground floor.  We also managed to track down some packets of cigarettes on display – while spotting letter shapes that make up the word Players.


Our Light Night Event

Our Light Night Event

We would like to say a big thank you to everyone who came to see our event, ‘Exploring the John Player Archive’  last Friday evening for Light Night 2011.  It was a really great opportunity for us to showcase the project and the work we have done for it.  I gave a brief introduction about the archive and what we have done to make it more accessible to a bigger audience.  Andy Newnham, the Collections Development Assistant, gave the audience an outline of the history of the company and then everyone got to see the film. 

Last friday was generally a very busy night because there was such a large variety of activities and events that people could see and experience and so many people wanted to be a part of it all.  There really were lots of things going on all over the city that everyone would enjoy.  Thank you to all the organisers for putting on such a successful and enjoyable evening.


Thomas Browne and John Player

Thomas Browne and John Player

Recently I have begun research into some of the artists whose work features on the hand-drawn adverts released by John Player.  The most well-known to Nottingham is Thomas Browne, born in Nottingham in 1870.  An example of his work was uploaded onto the blog entitled “Country Life”.  Here is another advert that is more cartoonish in style;

This advertisement was released by John Player approximately 1910.  Thomas Browne’s work featured on many “Weights” and “Country Life” adverts. 

Browne was first introduced to art when he was apprenticed to a Nottingham lithographic printing firm when he was 14.    His career as an artist and humorous draughtsman began at the age of seventeen when he discovered that he could draw and make what would now be described as caricatures of his friends.  They persuaded him to send his work to the comic magazine “Scraps” issued by James Henderson.  Browne was paid the equivalent of 3 months wages for his work by Henderson.  After completing his apprenticeship, Browne enrolled in a local art school but left after 3 months, stating it was ‘dull’.  It was the only formal artistic training he ever had.  Immediately after leaving the school he moved to London and his career took off.      

Browne was one of the most popular and respected pen and ink artists of the Victorian and Edwardian era.  He was genial and kind and this won him a great deal of friends, but he also inspired new generations of comic artists.  It’s strange that he drew thousands of sketches before and after establishing his own studio, but few of them have survived today.  We are lucky to have his work featured on some of the adverts in our collection.


The Art of Advertising

We’ve started holding our creative writing sessions, led by playwright Andy Barrett.  The idea behind the project is that a group of young people will explore the collections, and then produce a short film looking at how advertising changed over time.  This film will form part of an exhibition at Nottingham Castle in July, which will show examples of tobacco advertising from the 1890s to the 1960s.

This week three former employees came in to talk about their time working at the Player’s factory.  It was really important that the group got a chance to meet former employees, and were free to ask them questions about any aspect of their experiences.  We had a very interesting discussion about attitudes to smoking and how the company had reacted to changes in legislation.  We also got a fascinating insight into a working culture that has long since passed.

We then set the group a challenge – to come up with an advert that would impress.  Roy (shown here) worked in the design department, so he gave great feedback on where to start and how campaigns evolve.

Next week we’ll be introducing the group to their film maker and starting to work on ideas for their film.  I’m sure whatever they come up with will use the collection in a  new and exciting way.


John Player now on Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway

John Player Now On Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway

Our pathway for John Player & Sons has now been uploaded onto the Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway website.  It contains a brief history of the John Player firm from 1877 to the present.  There is also information about the collection itself including images of counter cards and photographs of working life there.  This information is accompanied by details about important sources that are useful in studying more about the tobacco industry.   

Click on this link to view the research pathway;


Country Life

Country Life

As feedback from the Strategic Tobacco Control Group urged us to focus more on the older, hand-drawn, showcards, these are two very good examples of the older showcards that we have in the archive.  The ‘Country Life’ series started in the early 1900s and ended around the 1930s, it was a brand for cigarettes and tobacco mixture.  Local artists such as Tom Browne were commssioned to paint a landscape or a scene based in rural settings.  This first showcard was sketched by Browne in 1907 and it appeared on this ’Country Life’ showcard in 1908;  

Another ‘Country Life’ showcard was sketched and painted by C. Clark in 1923.  This scene is very masculine, with crowds of men watching two fight in the centre;


These to sketches in the showcards are very different from each other and they invoke different thoughts and emotions in the viewer.  Even though they are all centred around the theme of rural life in the first half of the 20th century, it is difficult to identify the ‘Country Life’ brand with a particular social group.  But that is what will make the exhibition so fascinating!


Ask the Experts

I had a really interesting meeting yesterday, with Kate and Indu from the city’s Strategic Tobacco Control Group.  I asked them to come and have a look at some of our material and advise on how best to go about displaying the adverts, without them being seen as an advert for cigarettes by gallery visitors.  A true challenge, I’m sure you’ll all agree.

Not surprisingly they were wary about being seen as supporting any  such display, but they were really friendly and practical in their support.  They understand the need to tell the story of this important firm and how vital it once was to Nottingham, but are keen for us to make careful selections and not send out the wrong type of message.

So the more historic the better, which fits with the remit of seeing adverts as art.  The hand drawn adverts really ended in the 1960s, so hopefully by not showing anything less than 40 years old people will be able to view them in a historic context.  The finished result will require a very delicate balancing act – hopefully one that will educate and not offend.


About this Sponsor

The Museum of Nottingham Life at Brewhouse Yard is part of Nottingham City Museums and Galleries.