Thursday, 21 January 2010

Player's Navy Cut, Shepherd's Bush

Earlier today I heard on the radio many people book their holidays on the third week of January. Post-Christmas blues and cold winter weather seem to be the main reasons why we choose to head towards travel agencies, in the high street or online. At least it gives us something to look forward to. I say we because we did book our flight tickets last Friday for the Easter holiday. I couldn't think of any painted sign for a travel agency but here is one with an image of someone who would have travelled to many parts of the world (although that would hardly been for leisure). As for the product advertised, the only place it could send you to is your grave, and faster than you may wish.

Navy Cut was launched by John Player & Son Ltd of Nottingham in the early 1890s and is certainly one of the company's best-known brands, largely thanks to its eye-catching logo representing a Royal Navy sailor framed by a lifebelt (this was a combination of two previous labels). During the early years several designs were used. 'Hero', as the sailor was often referred to, appeared with a beard (as on this painted sign) or cleanly-shaven, with just some clouds or with two battleships in the background: HMS Britannia, launched in 1762 (traces of the hull are barely visible to the left of the sailor), and HMS Dreadnought, launched in 1875. In 1927 the design was standardized using a 1905 bearded figure (the Archives & Collection Society has a couple of early designs). From the 1920s 'Hero' increasingly appeared against a white background or alongside other pictures to fit more modern representational forms.

The image of a sailor had originally two purposes. Not only it denoted a popular smoking tradition, but it was also linked to national pride. A Royal Navy sailor was the embodiement of Britishness and British grandeur, a brave man whose life was dedicated to the safeguard of the empire (this is reinforced on the most common version of the logo by the name of the sailor's battleship on his cap: "Hero", altough strangely enough the letters "HMS" were omitted. On other versions the full name, such as "HMS Invincible", is displayed on the cap). Using such a traditional symbol of Britishness to establish a product was common practice in Victorian times. Additionally a military theme would have appealed at the time to many male smokers. During the inter-war years, Player's began targeting women and the manly sailor turned into a sympathetic, almost uncle-like figure who could offer protection. Such an image that could appeal to both genders, coupled with the effective slogan "Player's Please!", helped to boost sales and to put Player's Navy Cut well ahead of the two other leading brands, Craven A and Woodbine.

But who was the popular sailor modelled on? Looking at The Guardian, it looks like there is no definite answer.

Prices quoted on both sides of this pack of Player's Navy Cut Cigarettes Medium are: (upper left) 10 for 6d, and (bottom right) 20 for 11 1/2d.

Location: Uxbridge Road / Pictures taken on: 27/02/2009

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