Dom Joly: I am medallion man – until the mafia arrives

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The Independent Online

I've just spent the week in Benidorm … not something I'd ever thought I'd find myself writing. I was there for work, not joining the thousands of Brits that flock to this unofficial Brit colony on the Costa Brava.

It would be fair to say that I was rather dreading the trip. Benidorm, once a lovely little costal town, is now the stuff of architectural nightmares. Looking back from an admittedly rather wonderful beach, you see nothing but row after row of tower blocks designed, it seems, by architects with a hatred for the form and beauty that characterises so much of the best Spanish/Moorish buildings.

We were staying in a golf resort in the hills just behind the town. The owners, perhaps shamed by what had happened below, had decided to turn the establishment into a Spanish equivalent of Portmeirion. Every building in the vast, somewhat empty complex was a replica of a prominent building in the Costa Brava. The place was supposed to have the feel of a Spanish village, but was actually more like the set of The Truman Show.

There was a rather lovely central square, but unfortunately, the owners, in their infinite wisdom had decided that people didn't want to sit in tranquillity, while sipping on sangria. No, they felt that what we really wanted was a "mini disco" in which hugely powerful, hidden speakers blared out the hokey-cokey in Spanish while a demented woman in a jumpsuit jumped round screaming into a microphone and trying to get the two or three children hanging about to dance.

The following morning, we were up bright and early and down into town ready to start filming. We were constantly in danger of being mown down by the extraordinary number of "disability" scooters around the place. In Benidorm, these are not the exclusive domain of the disabled, but seemingly the popular choice of transportation for every visitor. I saw whole families drive past, with drivers' ages ranging from six to 60. It seems they are cheaper to rent than mopeds and, of course, you can drive them into shops, so no need for that knackering use of the legs when buying your beer and fags.

Halfway through the afternoon, trouble started. A very large and irate Neapolitan swaggered into the bar we were filming in and claimed that one of our crew had knocked him off his moped and that I had sworn at him (completely untrue). He announced that nobody "disrespects" somebody from Naples and he was going to kill someone. His angry eyes scanned our rather nervous group before settling on me. This was unfortunate, as I happened to be dressed as a Spanish lothario complete with medallions, leather trousers and chest hair. The barman whispered to us that the protagonist was "local mafia".

The Neapolitan clearly assumed that a Colombian gang was trying to muscle in on his action and that I was the capo di tutti capi. He squared up to me with his plumage on full display. That was enough for ITV and I was whisked away to the safety of another bar. Fortunately, it was not the one with a 12ft "Bucking Penis" for the entertainment of its clientele.