Iona Margaret Balfour Opie, CBE, FBA (13 October 1923 - 23 October 2017) and Peter Mason Opie (25 November 1918 - 5 February 1982) were an English 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.
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 donated to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. The Opie Collection of Children's Games and Songs is an archive of audiotapes donated to the British Library.
Iona Margaret Balfour Archibald was born in Colchester, Essex, England. She was a researcher and writer on European folklore and children's street culture. 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.
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. 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).
The couple met during World War II and married on 2 September 1943. 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. The medal is awarded by The Folklore Society "for outstanding research and scholarship".
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.
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."
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.
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. The collection is available on microfiche.
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. 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.
They authored about 25 books including: