Player's opens up its
The history of cigarette manufacturer Player's is set to go online in a major archive project. ANDY SMART takes a closer look.
THE unnamed worker made the big switch in 1926. He walked out of Raleigh and into Player's – and never regretted the move. "I walked through the Alfreton Road entrance into an environment only appreciated after working in totally different conditions.
"Clean wooden floors, double the wages, quarter of an hour canteen break, paid annual holidays … overalls provided free, cloakrooms for men and women, opportunity to join a works pension scheme … a substantial annual bonus and the fear of unexpected sacking removed … a weekly allowance of cigarettes and tobacco and there was even a special fund to give financial aid if required for children passing scholarships for higher education."
He made Player's sound almost too good to be true, but among the oral archives on file at the Local Studies library in Nottingham are many more testimonials to life at the cigarette factory.
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A female worker from a century ago recalled: "…started at five shillings, and you got a sixpence raise every six months, if you went and asked for it … till it got up to eighteen shillings."
And another male employee said: "Wages and conditions were pretty good, very good compared to the majority of other firms, you see we got good wages."
Now those memories, plus hundreds like them, are part of a major project involving the University of Nottingham and Nottingham City Museums and Galleries to digitise the John Player's Advertising Archive, which consists of more 20,000 objects from the company's history, dating from the 1890s to the 1980s, and includes posters, counter cards, packaging, tin and enamel signs, photographs and company literature.
The project will document each item and digitise the collection for an online archive resource for academics and the public — in particular the Nottingham communities who have a personal link with Player's — to explore.
The team will also be working with former employees of Player's throughout 2010 and 2011 to help shed light on the stories behind items in the collection.
Once documented, the material will be used in major exhibitions at the Museum of Nottingham Life and Nottingham Castle Museum.
Research into not only the company and its relationship to Nottingham, but also the nature of advertising through the 20th Century will provide the School of History with resources for undergraduate and postgraduate students, and lead to the delivery of conference papers or articles to the wider academic community.
Loans of material from the archive to lecturers and tutors in several University schools will also enhance students' hands-on learning. Evocative images of the John Player's Navy Cut sailor, the "Player's Please'' slogan and the John Player Special colour-scheme (which adorned the Lotus Formula One cars throughout the seventies and eighties) make this archive a fascinating and important resource for the university to be working on.
"These advertising images instantly evoke past worlds – ranging from Edwardian Britain to the 1960s – in which Player's marketed its brands as part of the consumer culture of its day," said Professor Liz Harvey, head of the School of History at the university. "Exploring them will be an exciting project with major significance for the social and cultural history of 20th Century Britain, and it will also be particularly important for those in Nottingham with memories and experiences of the company."
The John Player's project is run as a partnership between the University and Nottingham City Museums and Galleries.
The key academics involved are Professor Chris Wrigley and Prof Harvey, with the project associate, Andrew Newnham, also based in the School of History. The project will launch this month at a public event at the University Club, on University Park. For more information on the project and the launch, contact email@example.com.