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Back Story

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David Mitchell, who you may know for his inappropriate anger on every TV panel show except Never Mind the Buzzcocks, his look of permanent discomfort on C4 sex comedy Peep Show, his online commenter-baiting in The Observer or just for wearing a stick-on moustache in That Mitchell and Webb Look, has written a book about his life.

As well as giving a specific account of every single time he's scored some smack, this disgusting memoir also details:

• the singular, pitbull-infested charm of the FRP (‘Flat Roofed Pub’)

• the curious French habit of injecting everyone in the arse rather than the arm

• why, by the time he got to Cambridge, he really, really needed a drink

• the pain of being denied a childhood birthday party at McDonalds

• the satisfaction of writing jokes about suicide

• how doing quite a lot of walking around London helps with his sciatica

• trying to pretend he isn’t a total **** at Robert Webb’s wedding

• that he has fallen in love at LOT, but rarely done anything about it

• why it would be worse to bump into Michael Palin than Hitler on holiday

• that he’s not David Mitchell the novelist. Despite what David Miliband might think

326 pages, Paperback

First published October 11, 2012

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About the author

David Mitchell

54 books465 followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

David Mitchell is a British actor, comedian and writer. He is one half of the comedic duo Mitchell and Webb, alongside Robert Webb, whom he met at Cambridge University. There they were both part of the Cambridge Footlights, of which Mitchell became President. Together the duo starred in the Channel 4 sitcom Peep Show in which Mitchell plays Mark Corrigan. The show received a BAFTA and won three British Comedy Awards, while Mitchell won the award for Best Comedy Performance in 2009. The duo have written and starred in several sketch shows including The Mitchell and Webb Situation, That Mitchell and Webb Sound and most recently That Mitchell and Webb Look. Mitchell and Webb also star in the UK version of Apple's Get a Mac advertisement campaign. Their first film, Magicians, in which Mitchell plays traditional magician Harry, was released on 18 May 2007.

On his own, Mitchell has played Dr James Vine in the BBC1 sitcom Jam & Jerusalem and Tim in the one-off ShakespeaRe-Told adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew. He also is a frequent participant on British panel shows, including QI, Mock the Week and Have I Got News for You, as well as Best of the Worst and Would I Lie to You? on each of which he is a team captain, and The Unbelievable Truth which he hosts. Regarding his personal life, Mitchell considers himself a "worrier" and lives in a flat in Kilburn.

Author biography and photograph obtained from Wikipedia.

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5 stars
1,828 (22%)
4 stars
3,605 (43%)
3 stars
2,288 (27%)
2 stars
385 (4%)
1 star
103 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 604 reviews
4 reviews1 follower
January 6, 2013
I'm not a big fan of autobiographies, but I am a big fan of David Mitchell; these facts seem to have averaged out into a 3 star rating.

As I read, it was David Mitchell's voice telling me the anecdotes in my head. This was a really positive thing about the book; he didn't write with pretension, rather he wrote as himself. It felt like an honest memoir which made it instantly likeable and interesting.

I guess for me, the first half was disappointing. I got the impression that David Mitchell had a fairly normal, if affluent, childhood. It just wasn't particularly interesting to read (but that might be due to a general disinterest in autobiographies). I powered through (there were a few laughs) and was glad to have done so. I did enjoy reading about the Cambridge days and was interested in the years he spent trying to break into comedy. As a Victoria Coren fan, the ending made me very happy!

A few minor grumbles: Mitchell seemed to have a bit of a defensive attitude about certain parts of his life. If you're from quite a comfortable background, there's not shame in being honest about that. The "yes-I-went-to-private-school-but-it's-much-more-expensive-these-days-so-I-probably-wouldn't-have-gone-if-it-were-now" argument is just a bit unnecessary I think; just say it as it was. Also, he made a comment about A Levels now being easier than when he did his - to anyone who holds this view, grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

All in all, it was an enjoyable and easy read that I would recommend if you're a fan of DM.
30 reviews
February 7, 2013
I'm only a little way through this so far but I am LOVING it. It helps that I really like David Mitchell, he makes me laugh a lot, and this book is making me like him more. It's pretty much a book about nothing - sort of going for a walk and getting diverted with rambling anecdotes about childhood and random opinions. I quite like descriptions of walks (I enjoy Clare Balding Goes For A Walk on radio 4, for example), and his diversions are pretty much his panel show persona, so for me it works.

Also I've put War and Peace on hold - I'm about 1/12 of the way through it and really struggling - so I'm going to enjoy pretty much anything in comparison, and this feels like a huge treat. Will go back to War and Peace after this. (Probably. Maybe.)

If you like David Mitchell, you will like this, and if you don't like David Mitchell you won't read it anyway.
Profile Image for Tan Markovic.
335 reviews136 followers
June 3, 2022
Love this man. Loved reading his and Robert Webbs memoirs and realising just how much they really are Mark and Jez ❤
Profile Image for Diane.
227 reviews14 followers
January 12, 2013
I laughed out loud several times throughout my reading. David Mitchell is hilarious, whether in print or on my TV screen and I'm glad to have read his memoir. He's still pretty young so I imagine he'll write another one eventually. I thought the mushy chapter about falling in love and getting married was a little bit strange as it didn't really fit in with his persona throughout all the rest of the book, but it still made me tear up and feel very happy for him.

I would definitely recommend this book to any other David Mitchell fans.
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,206 followers
February 9, 2023
This is the perfect person to write a memoir about David Mitchell! It came down to one of two David Mitchells. A real coup for the publishers!
Profile Image for Simon Howard.
617 reviews14 followers
November 22, 2012
As with all celebrity autobiographies, if you’re a fan of the celebrity, there’s a high probability that you’ll enjoy the book. If not, you’re unlikely to read it anyway. That’s a point that’s made often, but that probably bears repeating.

The structure of this book is slightly novel, in that it follows Mitchell on a walk around London, with reminisces and comic riffs inspired by things he sees along the way. I think it’s fair to say that little of the content is deeply insightful: it’s mildly embarrassing to buy underwear; membership of Footlights provides a firm footing for launching one’s career in comedy; and most ideas pitched to television companies don’t get commissioned.

That said, I like David Mitchell, so I enjoyed the book. The content isn’t groundbreaking, but it is at least communicated with warmth and a degree of endearing self-deprecation. And I found the last chapter, in which Mitchell discusses his relationship with Victoria Coren, genuinely heartwarming. Others have described it as overly syrupy, but I disagree - I thought it was lovely.

It’s hard to know what else to say, really. Mitchell comes across as a thoroughly likeable guy, and this is a highly readable but equally forgettable walk through a life that has been lived without all that much trauma, distress or heartache. It’s a light read that, as a fan of Mitchell, I find it hard not to recommend. But it’s hardly life-changing stuff.
Profile Image for Jenny.
351 reviews193 followers
March 14, 2016
I like David Mitchell, I liked listening to David Mitchell read about David Mitchell. I liked hearing David Mitchell drop the C word many times with a delightfully posh British accent.
Profile Image for Gretchen Bernet-Ward.
342 reviews11 followers
November 18, 2020
Ironically, I am reading both David Mitchell (non-fiction) and Robert Webb (fiction) books. They are the lead actors in numerous shows including ‘That Mitchell and Webb Look’ and ‘Peep Show’. In case you didn’t know, they are old friends both on and off UK comedy television. Mitchell’s ‘Back Story’ is an intense memoir of musings as he walks one hour each day through his London neighbourhood for health reasons.

Mitchell writes with knowing tolerance of human nature, the good, bad and ugly sights of Kilburn, amusing anecdotes (naturally) and ties in several things I really didn’t need to know about his young life. Nor some in his adult life. Then again it did shaped the man, the actor, the writer. And he has inspired me to document some of the icons in my suburb.

The emotional ups Mitchell experienced, often turned into nervous downs. And disturbingly revolved around parties and alcohol. Performing one of his sketches at university, he writes ‘I am a stupid **** I thought in my whirring, self-loathing, idiot’s brain as I tried to time the next bit of the sketch’ which got a huge laugh and he was hooked on comedy writing.

The chronological photographs are a fine record of Mitchell’s life. His on-and-off screen persona seems the same. There’s a lot of info on his acting career, his adult life is a mixed bag; naming names I didn’t recognise; his big break in ‘Comedy Nation’; silly snippets like accidentally leaving a goldfish in a bowl on top of a petrol pump. Both lived to tell the tale.

David Mitchell’s memoir, mostly written in what was once termed ‘coarse language’ has a small 2012 rant about tele-marketing and landline phones. Eight years later in 2020 we have seen ever more lifestyle changes. Disappointingly for me, his pivotal role in the recent Shakespearean series ‘Upstart Crow’ came along later. Nevertheless, Mitchell has written a jolly interesting read.

Profile Image for Charlotte Jones.
1,041 reviews133 followers
June 8, 2018
I have been meaning to listen to this book for years and for some reason have only just got around to it.  Unfortunately I didn't enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. It wasn't bad by any means, I just think that my expectations were very high and I was slightly disappointed in the end. 

I found that the 'story' hooked me at the beginning and the very end but there was a section in the middle that didn't really keep my interest. I loved hearing about David's childhood and university experience, though when he got to his career in television the pace lost a bit of steam. 

David Mitchell's narration is glorious; there's something about him and his style of comedy that I can really get on board with. The cynicism is great and I think throughout most of the book I couldn't fault the humour and anecdotes. It was more the storytelling itself that I struggled with. 

Overall I think that if like me you are a huge fan of David Mitchell, this may be worth picking up, but it's not something that greatly impressed me unfortunately.
Profile Image for Joey.
18 reviews
February 20, 2016
I don't know why I thought David Mitchell's memoir would be an interesting thing to read. His life is pretty much uneventful, typical, and non-dramatic. Which is good, I think, for him. All those harrowing memoirs where the writer talks about how they overcame prejudice, beat the odds, et cetera et cetera all imply that at one point or another, their life was utter shit.

At least here we get the sense David Mitchell has had a rather pleasant life. It's just boring to read about.
111 reviews
January 2, 2021
I like an original biography, I like British humour and I find David Mitchell very funny. Thoroughly enjoyed this.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,143 reviews62 followers
February 5, 2017
First coming across him as Peep Show‘s Mark, and since then on That Mitchell and Webb Look and the ten thousand comedy panel shows that litter the Dave channel, I find David Mitchell very, very funny. Which is why, when finding myself feeling rather down, I chose to read his autobiography. And while Back Story didn’t raise many belly laughs, it was still an amusing and pleasant way to pass some time.

David Mitchell would be the first to admit that he’s not had the most drama-filled life, having had a pleasant childhood and successful adulthood where the only bad things to ever really happen to him were the death of his beloved grandad, and getting a bad back. But he has gone on to be a successful comedy writer and actor, and Back Story charts how that came about.

Taking in his early family life and academic prowess, attending Cambridge and joining Footlights (where many a Brit comedy star got their start, and where he’d meet his future comedy partner Robert Webb), the nursing of unrequited infatuations, and years of meetings and projects that never quite made it before finally fulfilling his dream of becoming a TV comedian, one of this books strengths was how easy it was to hear Mitchell’s voice when reading it, as well as his honesty when it came to admitting unflattering things about himself (not that there’s anything particularly heinous within – mostly moments of snobbery or jealousy). It’s main weakness was that while a drama free life is nice to lead, it doesn’t make for the most thrilling of celebrity memoirs. Without having ever so much as told any of the girls he had crushes on how he felt, let alone having developed a drug problem or thrown anything from a hotel window, it’s a good thing that Mitchell can make things like trips to M&S to buy underpants amusing or this would have been a much duller read.

If you’re in the market for celebrity memoirs there are definitely more essential reads out there, but if you want to find out exactly how similar David Mitchell is to Mark Corrigan then this is the book for you.

**Also posted at Cannonball Read 9**
Profile Image for Guna.
189 reviews27 followers
February 18, 2013
I really love David Mitchell, the comedian (I am partial to David Mitchell, the novelist, as well, but that's another story), although I discovered this brilliant man rather recently and I can't seem to get enough of him, so I was hoping that his memoir would resemble his comical persona. And it did - it grabbed me from the very first page (I counted that I laughed out loud five times while reading this particular page). It wasn't a piss-myself-from-laughing kind of book for me (although David, or so he claims, has been known to make at least one person do that), but it was very amusing and entertaining, so this aspect was not lost on paper, and his fantastic ironic sense of humour was there to everyone's pleasure. Back Story was, of course, personal (it is a memoir after all), but not in a very sentimental and obnoxious way that would be off-putting; on the contrary, I was rooting for him the whole time, and his getting the happy ending which he oh so deserved restored my faith in humanity, so to say. I was relieved, though, that there was no mention of a bucket named Stephen Tatlock, so hopefully he really lied about that on Would I Lie to You?.
This is also an educational book, for example, for people who want to learn the proper smoking technique (remember, it's sucking, not just breathing), and let's not forget it being a tourist AND a weight-loss guide. So three for the price of one - not a bad deal at all.
The chapters about Cambridge came as a big surprise, as I could never have imagined that it was possible to get a degree from this university without doing any actual studying. Well, that is just great to hear, thank you for enlightening us, David.
One last thing: if you're not British (like me), most of the names of people and culture-specific items or TV shows Mitchell mentions won't probably mean anything to you, but that is a thing one has to be aware of and just deal with - it in no way spoiled this wonderful experience for me.

Profile Image for Vilde H.
137 reviews7 followers
March 11, 2019
I didn´t know much about David Mitchell before I read this book other than what little he has shared on Would I Lie To You? I thought this was a good memoir, but then again, I haven´t read any other memoirs before. Maybe this book is horrible compared to other of its kind, maybe it´s a masterpiece. All I can say is that I enjoyed it. This is also coincidentally my first voluntary book review, so this is a time for many new experiences.

David Mitchell takes us for a walk around different parts of London while we get a glimpse of his childhood, university years and rise to fame. We learn about his family, friendships, love life, career and how traumatizing it really is to cook a living lobster. The book includes an alarming rate of references to WWII, but I thought it elevated the book and gave it more pizzazz. David is writing as his usual witty self; he makes you laugh, he makes you cry, but most of all, he makes you wish you´d appreciate your shoes more for all the hard work they do for you, and makes you even consider giving them a fitting name.

I have many things in common with David. The awkwardness while shopping for pants, timidness, the distaste for lobsters, the postponement of school work and a longing for an occasional scream. It is alarming how much I have in common with a man in his thirties, but I think that says more about me than David. Anyways, this book is funny. I enjoyed it. If you´re a David Mitchell fan, you should read it.
Profile Image for Kate O'Hanlon.
334 reviews32 followers
December 10, 2012
Audible's relatively spotty collection has led to me buying a few titles that I would never ever otherwise consume. A celebrity memoir? Really? Who am I?

David Mitchell is a likeable, middle-class, small c conservative British comedian. I enjoyed his book, in no small part because it's read by the author and I find his voice reassuring (I usually find middle class British accents reassuring, a fact that I find strangely disconcerting.)

Mitchell grows up the eldest son of two former hoteliers turned polytech lecturers, goes to a small independent school, is accepted to Cambridge, joins footlights, puts in some hard work and becomes a moderately successful and well know comedian. That's the story. It's not very interesting. Mitchell tells it well and I've spent a pleasant weekend listening to it. There.

The second to last chapter concerns his relationship with Victoria Coren (his then fiancée, now wife). This chapter it has to be said is quite lovely and occasionally adorable.

I cannot imagine that anyone who doesn't already like David Mitchell would read this book. But if you do, and haven't got anything else on, your expectations will probably be pleasantly met.
Profile Image for Tom Boniface-Webb.
Author 11 books27 followers
March 9, 2020
Excellent. Really enjoyed this bio. I agree with a lot of the ways Mitchell thinks about the world, and a don’t agree on some too... but I certainly enjoy his delivery.

The less said about his public school to Cambridge to Channel 4 TV show and BBC panel shows via the old boys network, the better, but we’ll let him off because he’s funny! And he doesn’t vote Tory...
Profile Image for Jacqueline Williams.
273 reviews9 followers
October 10, 2017
When you read a book of one of your favourite funny ranting men, your expectation is always high. At times there was the hint of self pity..... eek don't make me not like you...... eek
Nope, still love him for the complex comedian that he is!
Profile Image for Nigeyb.
1,198 reviews258 followers
March 21, 2020
David Mitchell is a good egg, and, if you agree with that statement, you should find much to enjoy and amuse in Back Story.

David Mitchell takes us on a walk around his neighbourhood in London. Walking has worked wonders for his back trouble, and made him a bit more svelte. David Mitchell being David Mitchell does not want you to think he is too pleased about this, even though he is.

We also learn about his childhood, formative years, university life including getting into the Cambridge Footlights, and how he finally managed to break into the world he inhabits now: acting, writing, and panel shows.

Back Story is written with his trademark wit, erudition and intelligence. I enjoyed it very much and rattled through it in no time.


Profile Image for Nathan McConville.
90 reviews1 follower
January 28, 2018
3.5 stars. His childhood seemed more amusing than adulthood via his memoir. But this is probably the case with anybody going into adulthood. Best if you know the Author so you can hear his voice as you read it.
50 reviews4 followers
January 22, 2013
Pretty much what you'd expect in a David Mitchell book (not the novelist, the comedian, as he will emphatically remind you throughout this biography). Lots of dry, sardonic, British wit, a few choice rants(some of which are retreads from his Soap Box video series) and the comedic talent to write everything in a humourous fashion.

The first half of the book is a bit stronger, since it relates experiences we've all been through (e.g. childhood, awkwardness, school, etc.) while the second half has a bit too much listing of things done and people met over the course of a career. While I can't really begrudge this inclusion, since it is ostensibly the purpose of this book, it's still not as pleasant to read as the earlier musings, in this reviewer's opinion. Still a good read, and if you've liked any of his work in the past, it's definitely worth a look.
Profile Image for J.V. Seem.
Author 15 books25 followers
March 16, 2015
I watch and listen to a lot of British comedy, and David Mitchell is wonderful. I much enjoy his logical rants.

This is a very funny memoir. Isn't that just the most disappointing thing, to read a really depressing memoir by a comedian. This is definitely not one of those. That's not to say that David Mitchell hasn't had hard times just like the rest of us, but he always manages to write them with humor and irony.

The book springs from a simple walk in the author's neighborhood, and from its sights and sounds his recollections come. It's not only an interesting framework, but also very well done.

The stories, and many funny ones there are, center on Mitchell's aspirations to comedy through childhood and student years, and getting started in TV. However, it ends on a surprisingly romantic note.

There's no doubt that David Mitchell writes very well.
Funny and enjoyable.
Profile Image for Ruth.
150 reviews1 follower
June 8, 2017
This book is a world away from my normal choice of reading, but David Mitchell has been filming for his new series in our area recently and I was curious to find out a bit more about him. I've seen him in Jam and Jerusalem, and heard him on various Radio 4 panel games but didn't really know much more about him.

It's not really a 'tell-all' autobiography - thank goodness - but it is very funny and entertaining. When I started the book I half expected to get a few chapters in and decide I'd had enough, but David Mitchell's wit and humour kept me interested all the way through to the end.

There is quite a lot of swearing, but forewarned about this I largely managed to ignore it.
Profile Image for Benjamin.
656 reviews
December 15, 2012
I don't read much non-fiction. And this is unlikely to encourage me to change my stance. I wanted to like this very much—I like David Mitchell and his (other) work quite a lot. He is funny and erudite and somehow reassuring. But this book didn't seem to capture his magic, and felt rather dull. This is especially so for the second half, where he goes into far too much detail about every stage of the development of his career.

I'm sorry, David. I know you are brilliant, but this was not your best work.
1 review
January 24, 2016
I love David Mitchell. I love watching his stand up, I love watching him on quiz panels and I love watching him as a host. I loved Peep Show.

But - to put it simply - I didn't LOVE this book.

Maybe it's because I find him at his best when he's taking the mickey out of other people (e.g. Lee Mack). But I think it's also because his writing takes a while to build.

The rants that make him so 'David Mitchell' in real life seem less effective in writing. It almost gets boring.
Profile Image for Regina.
75 reviews11 followers
January 10, 2015
Plenty of hilarious anecdotes to be found here - and if you're a long-time fan of Mitchell's, as I am, you'll basically be hearing his voice as you read this - but the chapter about his wife is simply one of the sweetest, most charming and straightforward accounts of being hopelessly in love I've read in a long time.
2 reviews8 followers
June 8, 2016

5 Stars? 5 Stars. I no doubt am biased toward Mark, erm, David, for any number of reasons, but reading this book by way of Audible with Mitchell himself narrating, the asides, the pauses, the humour, umm, humor, translates in ways that my English accent just couldn't and wouldn't have.
Profile Image for Robert.
228 reviews34 followers
July 27, 2018
Neither interesting nor funny. Basically Mitchell walks around London telling random thoughts and anecdotes about what he sees. unfortunately it feels more like he's listing things off rather than telling stories worth hearing.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 604 reviews

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