A Study of the Relationship between Media, Commercial Markets and Children’s Play in the UK between 1950 and 2011

Funding Body

British Academy

Principal Investigator

Professor Jackie Marsh

Research Assistant

Dr Julia Bishop

Dates of project

1 Aug 2011–31 Jan 2012

This project aims to examine changes in the way in which media and commercial interests have influenced children’s play over the last 60 years in the UK. The UK has unique collections of children’s playground games and rhymes. The folklorists Iona and Peter Opie collected children’s street and playground games and rhymes in the 1950s–1970s and their collection is deposited at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. A recent study funded by the ARHC as part of the Beyond Text programme, ‘Children’s playground games and rhymes in a new media age’, involved the collection of games and rhymes from two primary schools in England over a two-year period (http://projects.beyondtext.ac.uk/playgroundgames/). The collections from this study are deposited at the British Library and a selection of them feature in the Playtimes: A Century of Children’s Games and Rhymes website (http://www.bl.uk/playtimes).

Photograph of boys playing

The current project involves interviewing some of the Opies’ child contributors, now adults aged 40–65, about their memories of play and its relationship to media and commercial markets. Their experiences will be compared to those of contemporary children in the Beyond Text project in order to trace changes over time in the influence of media and the market on children’s play.

Research will focus on two schools who submitted information to the Opies’ surveys:

  • Ecclesfield Grammar School, Sheffield, whose Class 2C pupils sent in information about games, rhymes, beliefs and items of language in the mid-1950s.
  • St Winefride’s School, Manor Park, London E 12, whose 7–8-year-old pupils sent in information on their favourite game with others, favourite game on their own, and favourite toy in the early 1960s.