It was a big hit at my school, must see Saturday morning viewing in fact. We were clearly an enclave all on our own, however, given that nobody else seems to have heard of it, but we embraced the concept in a big way, sending off for pen-pals en masse. I had several and used to be beside myself waiting for the postman and those pale blue airmail envelopes, which brought with them a glimpse of a big, wide and exciting world.
My passion for pen-pals only lasted a year or so until, in the cavalier way of a typical teen, I lost touch with my overseas friends, but the experience I believe was invaluable. For a start, it made me aware at a young age how people from other countries were so much more advanced than us in language skills. I had pen-friends in Germany and France, both of whom, even as pre-teens spoke fluent English.
Despite the fact that I studied French at school for nine years, I was unable to even cobble together a decipherable letter. I often wonder what version of French we were taught as, every time I have visited France and attempted to converse, it's clearly not in the same French as the rest of the country. The writing, it would seem, was on the wall even back then as to how we, as a nation, would fare in a competitive European market. The common excuse for poor foreign language skills had always been that everybody speaks English - well who's having the last laugh now?
I also had pen-friends in the USA and Australia, where obviously language was not an issue but that seemed to be the only commonality that we shared. I loved to hear about life in Kentucky and the Australian Outback and at that time, with literally no forms of mass communication other than TV, it really did feel as though we were existing on different planets.
The best story happened to my friend, who had a pen-pal in Nigeria. We marvelled at photographs he sent of himself in army fatigues, proudly bearing a rifle but I think we were all secretly relieved that Nigeria was a long, long way away. How could we have known what might happen when his father, some sort of civil servant, was sent to London for business. I will never forget the look of slack jawed horror on my friend's mum's face as she called us down from my friend's bedroom to greet her Nigerian pen-pal, who was standing on the doorstep with his overnight bag.
He ended up staying at my friend's house for the weekend and it sort of tarnished the whole experience for us. He broke the unspoken taboo of pen-pal-ship by turning up like that in person. The whole point of pen-pals was that it provided mystique and adventure in our humdrum little lives but it only worked if the object of our fascination was somewhere else; somewhere far away.
I am amazed that more people's lives weren't touched by The Big Blue Marble. And if I have somehow made the whole thing up, well it sounds like a fantastic idea to me. I'm only surprised that somebody didn't come up with it years ago!