Review: Harold Mitchell’s bio & Mia Freedman’s memoir

Mama Mia cover Mia FreedmanLiving Large Harold MitchellRecent weeks have seen me battling through a couple of books that give insights into different aspects of the industry.  

Actually, “battling” does them an injustice, as I enjoyed reading both Mia Freedman’s Mama Mia and Harold Mitchell’s Living Large.

And having read the books (and interviewed them both for The Mumbo Report), you couldn’t pick two greater extremes within the industry than the fluffy world of magazine editorial to the grittier domain of media buying.

Both have been at the top of their particular part of the industry, and led large teams, but their approaches are entirely different.

So first to Mama Mia – and you can see the first part of our video interview here:


Now, although this is of interest for those working within the industry, this is written mainly for a consumer audience – the sort of people – mums and young women – who hang out at her Mama Mia blog. (And indeed, she’s more honest talking about pregnancy and loss than she is in dishing the dirt on former colleagues or rivals.)

But there’s plenty of industry stuff to get your teeth into – work-shy work experience people, sycophantic PRs, life in the ACP bubble. However, for those that know the history, the real anticipation for the reader is how she’ll tell the story of her unhappy time at the blokey Nine Network and the doomed The Catch Up. When the book came into the office, that’s the chapter I immediately turned to.

In truth she tells what happened, but artfully dodges the nitty-gritty of the work politics. Although she makes it clear she was deeply unhappy there, if you’re not careful you’d think the whole thing was all her fault.

There’s a similarly selective approach from Harold Mitchell in his book, written by journo Peter Wilmoth, based on a series of interviews with the big man. So what you get isn’t quite a life story as a selection of anecdotes.

In all honesty, I’ve never particularly been a fan of Mitchell, and in our few dealings he’s never been fond of me (you may get a hint of that if you watch the video chat below). But the book did make me like him a little more, if only for the fact that things didn’t come quite as easily to him as one might now assume.

But this is certainly not warts-and-all. For those who think of him as having a huge ego, you won’t change your mind. It’s the first book that’s dedicated a chapter to tributes from the great and the good.

It is, however, entertaining, with stories of tales from the top table – and particularly the other big man, Kerry Packer. Packer gets 22 mentions, his son Stuart – now the company CEO – 14.

And it would make good source material for someone brave enough to do an unauthorised biography.

In both cases, we haven’t heard the dirt yet.

  • Mama Mia by Mia Freedman, HarperCollins, $27.99; Living Large by Harold Mitchell, MUP, $49.99

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