The 12th Man
In 1984 he released his first record as The Twelfth Man, an EP entitled It's Just Not Cricket. This went on to become his most successful series of recordings, with 8 albums being released between 1987 and 2006. The premise involved Birmingham impersonating and satirising the Channel Nine cricket commentary team, particularly Richie Benaud and Tony Greig.
During the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Birmingham also recorded a series of mock-commentaries on Olympic events as the "Wired World of Sports", featuring such characters as the American track-and-field representative "Chuck DeWobblee" ("chucked a wobbly" – meaning to throw a tantrum) and the Ukrainian pole-vaulter "Olga Bedjanodgonnagedova" ("bet you're not gonna get over"), while also releasing the single under the 12th Man name, "Bruce 2000", featuring an impersonation of famed commentator Bruce McAvaney during the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
The Back Page
In 1997, Birmingham joined as a regular guest on the panel discussion show The Back Page, alongside host, Mike Gibson[disambiguation needed]. Ironically, Gibson was sent up by Birmingham in 1987 on his Twelfth Man album Wired World of Sports.
Birmingham is famous for being able to find humour amid the hyperbole of world sport. Following Michael Clarke's debut innings of 151 against India in 2004, there was considerable praise for him – including comments that the young man was the new Donald Bradman and that he should captain Australia. Birmingham announced on The Back Page that he was going to nominate Clarke for Australian of the Year: "He's just that good."
A skilled impersonator, Birmingham is also used on the show as a means of interviewing a sporting celebrity who is otherwise unavailable. His impression of Australian rugby union coach Eddie Jones following the decision to award a Super Rugby franchise to Perth was a prime example of this, even to the point that another panelist held Birmingham's left eyebrow in place in order to have him look like the man he was pretending to be. At one point, Birmingham even began an impression of Gibson, which he quickly ceased performing, upon deciding (tongue-in-cheek) that it might endanger his career. He also is well known for spontaneously impersonating Richie Benaud during discussions about cricket, having once said during a debate about Twenty20 cricket, "Why not twenty-two overs for the two sides?" (taking advantage of Benaud's characteristic pronunciation of the letters T and S). In the lead-up to the Melbourne Cup, Birmingham also frequently adopts the distinctive high-pitched voice of a jockey.
Birmingham is also known for his ability to cover up any ignorance he might have of players' names by creating new ones in keeping with the country in question. For example, a discussion about the New Zealand rugby league team collapsed into laughter when Birmingham praised, among others, the performance of "the centre, Waisiwerina Silitupe" ("Why's he wearing a silly toupee?").
Billy Birmingham launched a new website in October 2011, The12thMan, the websites features information about Billy Birmingham and his career as The 12th Man as well as a new range of products, including t-shirts, talking mugs, can coolers and bottle openers. Many of the products feature catch phrases.
List of impersonations
Personalities he has mimicked include:
- Richie Benaud
- Bill Lawry
- Tony Greig
- Mark Taylor
- Max Walker
- Ken Sutcliffe
- Ian Chappell
- Greg Chappell
- Alan Jones
- Ian Maurice
- Ray Warren
- Paul Vautin
- Peter Sterling
- Hansie Cronje
- Steve Roach
- Darrell Eastlake
- Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard
- Plus many other iconic people.
Birmingham has also used his impersonation skills on advertisements for KFC, which appeared on Channel Nine's cricket coverage in the summer of 2002/03.