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Iona and Peter Opie

Iona Margaret Balfour Opie, CBE, FBA (13 October 1923 – 23 October 2017)[1] and Peter Mason Opie (25 November 1918 – 5 February 1982) were a married team of folklorists, who applied modern techniques to children's literature, summarised in their studies The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (1951) and The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959). They were also noted anthologists, and assembled large collections of children's literature, toys, and games.



Iona Margaret Balfour Archibald was born in Colchester, Essex, England. She was a researcher and writer on European folklore and children's street culture.[citation needed] She is considered an authority on children's rhymes, street & playground games and the Mother Goose tradition. She was elected a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA) in 1998 and was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1999.[2]

Peter Opie was born in Cairo, in the war-time British Protectorate or Sultanate of Egypt, and educated at Eton College. He was a specialist in children's literature, and the customs of schoolchildren.[3] He was joint winner of the £1,000 Chosen Books competition, with his autobiographical discursion The Case of Being a Young Man (published in paperback, 1946).[4]

The couple met during World War II and married on 2 September 1943.[5] They worked together closely, from their home near Farnham, Surrey, conducting primary fieldwork, as well as library research, and interviewing thousands of children. In pursuing the folklore of contemporary childhood they directly recorded rhymes and games as they were currently being played. They collaborated on several celebrated books and, combined, produced over 30 works. They worked in their home in Alton, Hampshire. The couple were jointly awarded the Coote Lake Medal in 1960.[2] The medal is awarded by The Folklore Society "for outstanding research and scholarship".[6]

Peter Opie died on 5 February 1982 at home, Westerfield House, West Liss, Hampshire.[3]

Cathy Courtney conducted an oral history interview (C968/139) with Iona Opie in 1989 for the Cathy Courtney Oral History Collection held by the British Library.[7]

Speaking in 2010, Iona speaks of working with her husband as being "like two of us in a very small boat and each had an oar and we were trying to row across the Atlantic." Also, "We would never discuss ideas verbally except very late at night."[8]

The 1959 book The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren was meant to counter the argument that mass media and the entertainment industry had ruined childhood traditions.[9]

Opie CollectionsEdit

The Opies' collection of children's books and ephemera covers the 16th to 20th century and is the richest library of children's literature. It was begun in 1944, amounting in the end to 20,000 pieces. During 1988, it was donated to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, after a two-year public appeal raised the £500,000 cost.[10] The collection is available on microfiche.[11]

The Opie Collection of Children's Games and Songs is an archive of audiotapes donated to the British Library in 1998. It contains fieldwork recordings of children's play made by Iona Opie between 1969 and 1983, as research for The Singing Game about singing games.[12] The collection was digitised and made publicly available online as part of a research collaboration with the British Library and the University of Sheffield, led by the UCL Institute of Education.

Selected worksEdit

They authored about 25 books[13] including:

  • Peter Opie, author, 1946, The Case of Being a Young Man, a discursion (Chosen Books, competition prize winner)
  • Iona and Peter Opie, collectors and editors, 1947. I Saw Esau: Traditional Rhymes of Youth (Williams & Norgate Ltd)
  • Iona and Peter Opie, editors, 1951. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press)
  • Iona and Peter Opie, 1959, The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (Oxford University Press)
  • Iona and Peter Opie, 1963, The Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes (Penguin/Puffin)
  • Iona and Peter Opie, 1969, Children's Games in Street and Playground (Oxford University Press)
  • Iona and Peter Opie, editors, 1974. The Classic Fairy Tales (Oxford University Press). Presents the texts of twenty-four familiar fairy tales as they were first published in English; summarises the history of each tale, especially from the textual point of view.
  • Iona and Peter Opie, 1985. The Singing Game (Oxford University Press).
  • Iona and Peter Opie, 1988. Tail Feathers of Mother Goose (Little Brown & Company).
  • Iona and Peter Opie, 1997. Children's Games with Things (Oxford University Press).

Latest editions

  • Iona and Peter Opie, Maurice Sendak illustrations, 1992. I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book (Walker Books, London) (Republication of 1947 book)
  • Iona Opie, 1993. The People in the Playground (Oxford University Press, US)
  • Iona Opie, 1996. My Very First Mother Goose (Cambridge, Mass:Candlewick)
  • Iona Opie, 1999. Here Comes Mother Goose (Cambridge, Mass:Candlewick)
  • Iona and Peter Opie, 1999. The Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes (Penguin/Puffin). Republication of 1963 book.
  • Iona and Peter Opie, 2000. I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book (Cambridge, Mass:Candlewick) (Republication of 1947 book)
  • Iona and Peter Opie, 2000. The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (New York Review Book Classics) (Republication of 1959 book with new introductions by Marina Warner and Iona Opie)
  • Iona Opie, 2007 Mother Goose's Little Treasures (Cambridge, Mass:Candlewick)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Iona Opie", The Times, 27 October 2017, retrieved 5 November 2017
  2. ^ a b "OPIE, Iona Margaret Balfour". Who's Who 2015. Oxford University Press. November 2014. Retrieved 13 October 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Obituary, Mr Peter Opie", The Times, p. 10, 8 February 1982
  4. ^ Peter Opie, The Case of Being a Young Man, Chosen Books, 1946.
  5. ^ "Opie, Iona (1923—) – Dictionary definition of Opie, Iona (1923—) – FREE online dictionary".
  6. ^ "The Coote Lake Medal". The Folklore Society. Retrieved 13 October 2015.
  7. ^ The British Library, 'Opie, Iona (1 of 6) Cathy Courtney Oral History Collection', The British Library Board, 1989. Retrieved 1 February 2018
  8. ^ "News and Features | Open University". Retrieved 5 August 2011.
  9. ^ Aesolomv Ilaeazih, Artford Seminary Foundation (1961). "The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (Book Review)". American Anthropologist. 63 (3): 653–654. doi:10.1525/aa.1961.63.3.02a00520.
  10. ^ Waldron, Ann (20 November 1988). "Collector of Nursery Rhymes Is Closing The Book on an Era From The Glimpse of a Ladybird, A British Couple's Longtime Career Was Born". Philadelphia Daily News. H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  11. ^ "The Opie Collection of Children's Literature". ProQuest. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  12. ^ Opie and Opie, Peter and Iona. The Singing Game. Oxford University Press.
  13. ^ "Childhoods and Play". Opie Project Group, University of Sheffield. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  • Burn and Richards (2014). Children's Playground Games in the Age of New Media. Ashgate.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit