Woodbine (cigarette)

Woodbine cigarettes logo.png
Product typeCigarette
OwnerImperial Tobacco
CountryEngland, United Kingdom
Introduced1888; 133 years ago (1888)
MarketsUnited Kingdom, Ireland[1][2][3][4]
Previous ownersW.D. & H.O. Wills

Woodbine is a British brand of cigarettes, as of 2019 owned and manufactured by Imperial Tobacco. Woodbine cigarettes are named after the many woodbine flowers.


An old pack of British Woodbine cigarettes, photographed at the Musée Somme 1916 of Albert (Somme), France

Woodbine was launched in 1888 by W.D. & H.O. Wills. Noted for its strong unfiltered cigarettes, the brand was cheap and popular in the early 20th century with the working-class, as well as with army men during the First and Second World War.[5][6] In the Great War, the British Army chaplain Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy MC was affectionately nicknamed "Woodbine Willie" by troops on the Western Front to whom he handed out cigarettes along with Bibles and spiritual comfort. In the 1890s, Woodbine cigarettes were offered at a margin of 19%, with a possible maximum discount of 10%. In the United Kingdom, the brand was sold at very low advertising costs and total expenditure on sales promotion for all cigarettes and tobacco brands in 1925 was only 2d per pound of tobacco sold.[7]

The intricate nineteenth century packet design remained current until the mid 1960s. When Wills changed the packaging, the public hated the new look and Woodbine sales continued to drop. Those in the trade knew this rebranding as "the rape of the Woodbine pack".[8]

In common parlance, the unfiltered high-tar Woodbine was one of the brands collectively known as "gaspers" until about 1950, because new smokers found their harsh smoke difficult to inhale.

A filtered version was launched in the United Kingdom in 1948, but was discontinued in 1988. Woodbines came in four different packs, 5 cigarettes, 10 cigarettes, 20 cigarettes and 50 cigarettes.

They were often known as "Woodies".[9]


In the 1960s, a few television ads were made in which Gordon Rollings played a man who did various things (such as waiting for the bus or setting up a beach chair) which would always end in misery. He then would grab a packet of Woodbines from his pocket and light one up, followed by a happy tune and a man reading the line "Light up life with a Woodbine! It's Britain's best-selling cigarette!".[10][11][12] at the end.

The ads were never played on TV however, as all television commercials for cigarettes were banned on 1 August 1965.[13][14] A jingle was also made to promote Woodbine in the late 1950s or early 1960s.[15]

In popular culture

A Woodbine vending machine, now in the Staffordshire County Museum at Shugborough Hall, England
  • Woodbines were the oft-mentioned cigarette of choice for Tristan Farnon (Brian Sinclair), the younger of the two veterinary brothers in James Herriot's semi-autobiographical All Creatures Great and Small series.
  • Princess Alice of Battenberg, mother of Prince Philip and mother-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II, smoked Woodbines. Prince Philip's biographer Gyles Brandreth wrote of Princess Alice during her time at Buckingham Palace, "They say you could always tell when she was coming along the corridor because of the whiff of Woodbines in the air. The idea of the Duke of Edinburgh’s mum, dressed as a nun, sucking on her Woodbine… it’s wonderful!" [16]
  • Legendary North East England comedian Bobby Thompson always smoked Woodbines on stage and also mentioned them frequently in his act.[17]
  • John Lennon was originally fond of smoking Woodbines while he was a student and into the early 60s, before switching to smoking the French-made Gauloises Bleues. After switching, Lennon mocked the use of Woodbines during a documentary film that chronicled The Beatles' first visit to America.[18]
  • Jennifer Paterson, celebrity chef of the "Two Fat Ladies", was known to smoke Woodbines and is seen doing so in several episodes of the show.[citation needed]
  • Van Morrison, a Northern Irish singer-songwriter, mentions buying Woodbines in the song "Cleaning Windows" ("Bought five Woodbines at the shop on the corner // And went straight back to work"[19]) as a pictorial description of the main character of the song, who is a simple working man.
  • Flogging Molly, an Irish-American Celtic punk band, mentions smoking Woodbines in their song "Factory Girls". The song is about an old woman, and has the line, "Choking on Woodbine // cigarettes just kill time."[20]
  • In the Adrian Mole series of novels and related TV series, old aged pensioner character Bert Baxter had often smoked Woodbines as depicted.
  • In the 1992 film Howards End, Leonard Bast (Samuel West) references the brand while telling the Schlegel sisters (Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter) about his all-night walk through the forest. He describes how tired and hungry he was by dawn: “I didn't know when you're walking, you want breakfast, lunch and tea during the night as well. And all I had was a packet of Woodbines." His working-class position and accent indicate the brand may be a cheap favourite.

Some late XIX°-early XX° century steamships sported as much as five long and thin smokestacks (sometimes including a dummy one) , notably the imperial russian cruiser Askoldearnig them the nickname "packet of woodbines" coined by witty sailors.

See also


  1. ^ "BrandWoodbine - Cigarettes Pedia". www.cigarettespedia.com.
  2. ^ "Wild Woodbine". www.zigsam.at.
  3. ^ "Woodbine". www.zigsam.at.
  4. ^ "Brands". www.cigarety.by.
  5. ^ "Wild Woodbine cigarettes - Atlas Repro Paperwork". 17 October 2013.
  6. ^ "Stubbed out: the 21 most iconic cigarette packets of all time". May 20, 2016 – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
  7. ^ Alford, B. W. E. (5 November 2013). W.D. & H.O. Wills and the development of the UK tobacco Industry: 1786-1965. Routledge. ISBN 9781136584268 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ "Vintage cigarette packets". www.retrowow.co.uk.
  9. ^ Dalzell, Tom; Victor, Terry, eds. (2013). "wooden plank | woody". The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. 2 (2nd ed.). Routledge. p. 2436. ISBN 978-0-415-61949-3.
  10. ^ Justin Rollings (12 June 2009). "Cigarette Advertising - Woodbines by Gordon Rollings" – via YouTube.
  11. ^ "Cigarette Advertising - Woodbines by Gordon Rollings by Melissa Padilla - Dailymotion". Dailymotion. 13 September 2015.
  12. ^ "Gordon Rollings,The Herbs,John Smiths advert". theherbs.homestead.com.
  13. ^ "UK television adverts 1955-1985". www.headington.org.uk.
  14. ^ "Classic Ads : Spots and Spot Innovation : TV Toolbox : Thinkbox". 5 March 2009. Archived from the original on 5 March 2009.
  15. ^ EMGColonel (25 May 2013). ""light up a woodbine" 1960's ? advertising record for Cinema use ?" – via YouTube.
  16. ^ Knight, Lewis (November 17, 2019). "Tragic and heroic life of Prince Philip's mother Princess Alice of Battenberg". mirror.
  17. ^ "The Little Waster". 11 April 2010.
  18. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opRdGVoo7gY
  19. ^ "Cleaning Windows Lyrics". 7 August 2018.
  20. ^ Flogging Molly – Factory Girls, retrieved 2018-10-07

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