The Twelfth Man (also known as The 12th Man) is the name for a series of comedy productions by Australian satirist Billy Birmingham. Birmingham, a skilled impersonator, is generally known for parodying Australian sports commentators' voices. As befits the name (a reference to the non-playing reserve in a cricket side), Birmingham particularly focuses on cricket commentators such as Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry and Tony Greig. This is also due to the fact that many of Australia's cricket commentators have distinctive and easily-identifiable voices and accents.
The parodies, released periodically on CD, are designed as a comical look "behind the scenes" of the Nine Network's cricket commentary. Birmingham traditionally plays all the roles with the exception of minor female characters, such as Richie Benaud's secretary. Benaud himself sends a critique of each CD to Birmingham and is known to have a very low opinion of the recordings, due predominantly to Birmingham's use of profanity.
The 12th Man's most popular song would be "Marvellous!" featuring all the main three commentators. It was first recorded as a single in 1992, with backing vocals by Jimmy Barnes, John Farnham, Diesel and Glenn Shorrock among others. An updated version, with some of the commentators changed, was featured on Still the 12th Man. He has since released an updated version of the song entitled "Marvellous 2006" on his latest album Boned!. It can be heard at the 12th Man's MySpace.
Commentators and Personalities featured
Current Commentary Team (As of Boned!)
The commentators (and their respective characters) in Twelfth Man recordings include:
- Richie Benaud - the almost tyrannical Commentary Team Captain, with a penchant for "cream, bone, white, off-white, ivory or beige" jackets and order within his team
- Tony Greig - a balding South African-accented (so heavily that he borders on incomprehensible at times) commentator
- Bill Lawry - Tony's nemesis, a man with an unusually large nose (as a result of a childhood bout with "proboscitis"), a tendency to declare all batsmen out regardless of the actual result and an abiding and one-eyed love of the state of Victoria, Merv Hughes, leg-spinner Shane Warne and Australia (which he pronounces "Straya"). A keen pigeon fancier.
- Ian Chappell - a very laid-back man who is incapable of saying a sentence without the word "um" or "ah"
- Mark Nicholas - English cricket player and part of Nine's commentary team. He was introduced in the latest release, Boned!. He is seen as the Austin Powers-style character of the team.
- Mark Taylor - a younger commentator nicknamed "Tubby" who speaks very rapidly, constantly chews gum and uses a lot of cricketing jargon.
- Ian Healy - Introduced in The Final Dig?, as he had recently joined the Nine commentary team. Had a very minor role in the album
- Michael 'Slats' Slater - Introduced in Boned! Only appears in group scenarios.
- Simon O'Donnell - a deep-voiced commentator with a similar problem to that of Chappell
- Max Walker - the drawling former television personality who stretches a lot of his words and whom nobody wants as a commentator (later changes his name legally to "Mike Walker") He was a main commentator in 12th Man Again, but is sacked after that and tries to get back in to the team throughout the season by any means necessary, like hijacking the commentary box.
- Greg Chappell - Ian's brother, who was part of the commentary team in the 80's. Was portrayed as very similar to his brother, often indistinguishable even, and had a tendency to repeat what someone else had just said.
Other Cast and Appearances
- Faye Dingaway - Richie's secretary .
- Mrs. Richie - Richie's wife, with whom he has conversations at home.
- Ken Sutcliffe - The "male model from Mudgee", and Max Walker's co-commentator for wired world of sports. Wins the job on the commentary team for the cricket, but soon turns to tragedy known as "The Sutcliffe debacle". Ken Sutcliffe plays himself in both appearances in the Twelfth Man series, rather than being voiced by the Twelfth Man.
- Hansie Cronje - the disgraced former South African captain who speaks in a deep Afrikaner accent and constantly tries to have the others bet against him (in a not so subtle dig at his being banned from all cricket for match fixing)
- Ray Warren - a rugby league and swimming commentator who makes a guest appearance calling a cricket match and gets very worked up about it, comparing the cricketers to Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett (a reference to Warren's famous call of "THORPE, HACKETT, HACKETT AND THORPE, THERE'S NOTHING IN IT!") and the throwing around of the ball between the fielders to rugby league passing.
- Darryl Eastlake - Another Sports Commentator on Channel Nine who tends to scream at the top of his voice at anything. Was fairly prominent in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. He goes 100% over as a guest commentator as part of a plan from Kerry Packer to get Richie Benaud to stay on. He is said to have never seen a cricket game in his life in the CD.
- Michael Holding - former West Indian superstar, a 'guest commentator' whenever the 'Windies' were touring. Portrayed as laid-back, with a deep voice and a tendency to say "Mon" (man) at the end of every sentence (eg: "Richie, I've just gotta go get my walkman, mon!"
- Other Channel Nine personalities (or former personalities) including Ken Callander, John Tapp, Peter Sterling, Paul Vautin, Steve Roach, Mike Munro, Lou Richards, Kerry Packer, James Brayshaw and Eddie McGuire
- Billy Birmingham - Played himself when he replaced the commentary team in Boned!
The albums Wired World of Sports and Wired World of Sports II focused on the Nine Network sports magazine program Wide World of Sports, hosted originally by Mike Gibson and Ian Chappell, and later Ken Sutcliffe and Max Walker. These recordings parodied not only the cricket commentators, but other Nine sporting reporters and commentators, including the rugby league commentary team.
"Bruce 2000 - A Special Tribute" is another work, parodying Bruce McAvaney with an Olympic theme, with the usual name-punning "The two (Chinese) swimmers, We Doe-ping, and Yae We-won" in good supply.
A highlight of the recordings is the cricket commentary itself, generally featuring wildly improbable match results - teams scoring 600 runs in a One Day International
match, for example.
Birmingham is noted for his creation of humorous names for players of other countries, particularly Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Some are designed as thinly-veiled references to the players themselves, such as
- "Wasim Ranamadruta" (Was Imran a mad rooter) - Referring to Imran Khan's sex-symbol status of the time
- "Wasi Akrim" (Was He a Crim) - A remarkably prescient reference to Wasim Akram some years before the match-fixing controversy
- "Hafeez Andmissin" (Half His Hand Missing) - A parody of Azeem Hafeez who was born without two fingers on his right hand
- "Hakib Matifi Najah Besdidabad" (I Keep My Teeth in a Jar Beside the Bed) - A reference to Aaqib Javed
- "Ahbroke Miandad" (I Broke My Hand Dad) and Javed Gemitfa Miandad (Jar Vegemite for me and dad) - A reference to Javed Miandad
- "Ramatunga Downathroata" - A reference to former Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga
- "Katis Amarnath (Cut his arm in half) - A reference to Mohinder Amarnath; and "Sunil Havaskar" (Soon he'll have a scar) - A reference to Sunil Gavaskar.
Others simply parody the general sound of Urdu or Sinhalese names.
There are also a number of running jokes in the series, often referenced in lines delivered by one or more characters. Many of these have become cult lines among fans of the series.
- Bill Lawry, often argues with Greig during their commentary and punctuates wickets with the line "Got him yes! Stick that up your arse Tony Greig!" and "Got him yes! Piss off you're out! (a reference to Lawry's real-life line "Got him! Yes! Gone!"). Birmingham also depicts Bill Lawry as someone who admires Victorian cricketers passionately; i.e Merv Hughes and Shane Warne.
- Lawry's love of pigeons is also regularly featured, with pigeons being brought into the commentary box, attracting the ire of fellow commentators, particularly Greig and Benaud, when the pigeons "crap on the scorecards." Greig has often mentioned that any pigeon that "shit(s) on the scorecards" is a "dead pigeon."
- Greig, on the other hand, is well-known for his comment (in both recordings and real life) that a ball has been hit "right off the meat of the bat". In The Final Dig?, Benaud informs him that this statement is becoming a stereotype, giving rise to alternative versions such as "Right off the meat...spot...that's the middle of the sweet spot", "Right off the mmmmiddle of the bat - I didn't say 'meat'" and "Right off the vegetable of the bat".
- Throughout the series of recordings, Max (Mike) Walker has been portrayed as a man with anger management issues, bitter at being sacked from the commentary team in the mid-90's. His famous line of "Yeees...Welcome back, welcome back" has often been lampooned, as well as his tendency to describe in full detail the bowlers' actions.
- The increasing number of new camera angles and indicators of conditions in televised cricket is also parodied, with Greig's pitch reports often talking about "Crack Cam" (a camera physically placed within a crack in the pitch) and the "Scrotometer" (a microphone, temperature and sweat gauge attached to the scrotum of the batsman).
- Channel Nine's never ending production of 'limited edition memorabilia' (or "memorable-labia", as Bill Lawry's character pronounces it) is also satired with mock products such as: "Oh, Fuck It!" and "A Bunch of Crocks"
"Welcome back to the SCG, Pakistan are tchew(2) for twenty-tchew."
"Oh fuck it...It's a good caption that!" (referring to a photo print of Alan Donald's run-out)
"Gottim'! Yes! Piss off! You're out! That's fucked his average, Tony!"
And Shane Warne drops the ball, or takes a reverse-catch as it's called these days."''
"Puma Pants....No, it's these new Puma pants, they're a bit too tight"
(about Max Walker's attempts at being rehired)
"Well fow (for) stawters (starters) you cood (could) have the bawsted (bastard) bawwed (barred) from this pawt (part) of the brordcawst (broadcast) irea (area)!"
"He's certainly mawstered (mastered) the awt (art) of fawst (fast) bowling in the lawst (last) year and a hawf (half)"
(speaking very fast, quoting his air-conditioner ad)
"Jitsu. Straya's favet air!"("Fujitsu, it's Australia's favourite air")"
During the 2005-06 Australian cricket season, the free online cricket game Stick Cricket
featured commentary from The 12th Man. This was returned for the 2006-07 series and included an interview with The 12th Man by Stick Cricket's fans. It features some new lines such as "And welcome back to the SCG
or the MCG
or the Gabba
or the WACA
or wherever the hell we are" and classic lines like "Got him, yes! Piss off, you're out!"
On December 8, 2006, the Twelfth Man was a guest radio DJ on Triple M for several hours choosing the music, providing comments and playing clips from Boned!.
The 12th Man has a large following all around the world. Outside Australia, the UK probably has the most fans with South Africa a very close second. Albums have been learnt off by heart by many and Billy Birmingham is often greeted with impressions of his work. There are large groups petitioning for a new album but Birmingham is reluctant as his main star Richie Benaud works somewhat on the back burner in real life, with newer commentators taking more major roles.
- A single, "Bruce 2000", was released during the Sydney Olympics, with the 12th Man impersonating Bruce McAvaney.
- A promotional hits CD entitled (Some of) the 12th Man's Greatest Hits containing tracks from the official albums was available from Australian KFC outlets in 2003.