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Costa del Sol: Last Brits Standing: Blinkered BBC hatchet job should not dull your dreams of Spain

Author:   |  April 1st, 2015

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Bar girl Bronte followed the well-worn path of ‘English girl going home for the winter’ – hardly headline news.

“Nobody makes documentaries about successfully integrated immigrants in Spain” – reading the many post-show comments regarding last night’s BBC documentary, Costa del Sol: Last Brits Standing (aired Tuesday, March 31 at 22:45 GMT), this one stood out for a number of reasons…

Firstly, because it is undeniably true. Successful, happy, peaceful, sensible expats – those who have made a fine life for themselves in Spain – do not make for compelling, car crash TV. The statement also stuck out because it was one of only a few sane voices amid the hysterical hubbub.

The majority of post-show comments gleefully sneered at the documentary’s chief characters, denigrating everything from their life choices to their attire, accents and – rather tellingly – gumption to try to make a better life for themselves.

The BBC programme documented those Brits that had moved to southern Spain and hadn’t (yet, anyway) really ‘made it’. It happens. Some people sometimes see the Costa del Sol as a shortcut to wealth, health and happiness; as a playground for posturing, posing and playing, rather than a place where life’s pressures and rhythms continue and it is up to the individual themselves to make the move a success. Colin, a 66-year-old retiree featured in the show, looked happy, healthy and relaxed despite his cash-flow predicament, while Big Dave ran a popular bar with his family that was evidently well-liked by local expats – hardly the behaviour of a bloke to be pitied and pilloried.

Big Dave’s Hardy’s Bar in Calahonda seemed popular with locals.

The backdrop, as always, was gorgeous. However damaging the cherry-picked characters were, the sunshine, coastline, mountains and Med did their bit to brighten the mood. The setting was largely based around Benalmádena and Calahonda –popular holiday resorts on the Costa del Sol, and towns that are multifaceted in many respects.

The 24-Hour Square in Benalmádena that was featured as a backdrop for most of the debauched and drunken behaviour is, undeniably, a bit of a Brit-soaked boozefest most summer nights.

This is, remember, a cluster of bars, clubs and fast food joints nestled between two of the biggest resort centres in Spain – Fuengirola and Benalmádena. As a snapshot of a typical package holiday for teens and 20-somethings, it is accurate. As a snapshot of life for Brits living on the Costa del Sol, it is a million miles from the truth.

Many Brits living in Spain will not even know where it is. Most will have heard of it, avoided it, and given it barely a second thought. A few will have visited – including me – and realised that it’s a relatively harmless corner of the coast, and a place where one can have fun with the right attitude and frame of mind.

Elsewhere, the documentary got up close and personal with a rather narrow selection of Brits abroad, many of whom – despite the slightly patronising tone of the show – came across just fine. This was TV written by woolly liberals, for woolly liberals.

The sight of Brits enjoying a roast and a pint in the British boozer by the sea was treated as some sort of anachronism, of a throwback to days gone by when Britannia ruled the waves and the Empire was in full swing. In truth, Brits have been quietly, peacefully and – yes – profitably importing their way of life to Southern Spain for decades, and while it might not please all of the locals, the expat population along that stretch of the coast is well established and, for the most part, well liked.

The producers of the show evidently sought out the views of those Spaniards happy to denigrate the Brits living there, and then presented these views as widespread and common. The truth of the matter is, it is always easy to find a naysayer willing to talk ill of people, but for the most part – and something the documentary purposefully did not show – Brits and Spaniards on the Costa del Sol get along just fine.

Colin’s upbeat, positive attitude was a highlight of the show.

The show did touch upon some disturbing trends that VIVA has also reported on in the past. The failure of many Brits to properly register at their local town halls is an ongoing issue, and something that does little to endear vast swathes of Brits to the local populace. By not registering, Spain cannot officially record just how many people live in a certain province and adjust tax spend accordingly. Hence, those Brits living “off the books” are an increasing burden to local infrastructure and healthcare services.

The inability of the elderly couple to converse in Spanish was also laid bare, as were Big Dave’s difficulties in securing some fresh fish for his Fish & Chips special evening. This, more than anything, hit home just how important it is to at least try to learn the language. Failure to do so often leaves many Brits – particularly retirees who lack the support network and comforts of home – rather isolated.

In addressing the property market, the programme was correct in pointing out that many Brits have left the Costa del Sol in recent years, either because of negative equity or failure to hold on to a job. These problems afflicted many parts of Europe in recent months, and were most definitely not a Brit-fuelled, Costa del Sol-only problem, as the show seems to suggest.

And besides, the market is picking up across the region, with prices rising and buyers returning. As a documentary, Costa del Sol: Last Brits Standing is already out of date; behind the curve on a number of issues that it made central to its narrative, including that of struggling business owners wrestling with falling revenues and increasing antipathy.

Ironically, this was exactly how the show tried to paint many of the Brits living in Spain – as out of touch, ill-informed and unwilling to accept a new reality. The reality is, there will always be people struggling through situations such as these, and the fact that the BBC has only now noticed that life on the Costa del Sol isn’t quite what it was a few years ago smacks of knee-jerk filmmaking.

The documentary would have been better served airing in 2010. That is when the exodus of Brits fleeing the Costa del Sol reached anything approaching fever pitch. Since then, things have calmed down, recovered, and improved. The BBC is five years too late. But to expect the British media to have its finger on the pulse when it comes to Spain? Well, that really would be something worth watching…

If you missed last night’s show, you can check it out here.

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5 Comments

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  1. Suzanne says:

    ‘This was TV written by woolly liberals, for woolly liberals.’

    I hate that phrase! You’ve argued against using cliches and pigeonholing expats by using a cliche yourself. Other than that, I enjoyed the article.

  2. Natalie Hamilton says:

    I own a property in Spain, but don’t live there, so my comments are based on my experiences when I visit, which I do every year. I deliberately stay away during the summer, as the people featured in this one-sided, one-dimensional documentary are exactly the type I wish to avoid. My apartment is in Benalmadena, but away from the coast and near to the pueblo. The Brits are fun-loving but respectful of the local culture and way of life and the Spaniards are wonderfully warm and welcoming people. None of this came through in the program and I’m disappointed in the BBC for presenting such abiased view of the Costa del Sol. Oh……and Big Dave’s cafe is precisely the type of venue I wouldn’t visit if it was the last place in Andalucia. What a shameful attitude he had towards his hosts.

  3. Refillbill says:

    The writer of this article is as factual as the BBC. Where I agree that 24
    Hour Square is to be avoided if you are not a teenager or holiday maker,
    you state that it is in between Fuengarola and Benalmadena, well its in
    between Torremolinos and Benalmadena.
    The girls featured in this program have worked with, and are friends of my kids, and were fed most of the script. They showed Bronte looking through bar windows saying that all these bars had been closed down for ages
    and only 5 bars remained in action…..RUBBISH. As for “Big Dave” he is well known to most ex-pats that have been here for years, and thats all that i will say about that. No effort was made to show excellent bars, cafe’s, and restaurants and the great prices that can be had if you
    know where to look, such as a full english breakfast for 2.99 euros, or Spanish bars with great tapas.
    Yes, most of us that still work for ourselves, whether it is in a bar or other business, are struggling at present, but are still working hard to
    support our families……..shame on the BBC for a bloody awful and blatantly untrue view of the Costa.

  4. bluestar says:

    Where does Bronte come from , been trying to work out the accent .

  5. Francisco says:

    People need to come “Costa del sol” for to see that its untrue this
    documental ! BBC have interest for people that is traveling in Spain, come back or maybe BBC have invest in Tunez, and now need to do this kind
    of marketing, Im very sad for this untrue information!

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