9th May 2008 at 01:00
Michael Brannan, who died in March, aged 75, was one of the leading teachers of Russian in Scotland during the great expansion of the language in schools during the 1960s and 1970s
Michael Brannan, who died in March, aged 75, was one of the leading teachers of Russian in Scotland during the great expansion of the language in schools during the 1960s and 1970s.

Michael Neilson Brannan was brought up in north London and had to leave school at 15. After working in the civil service and completing his National Service, he took a general degree at Goldsmiths College, London University, which qualified him to teach English, French and music.

As a communist, he attended an International Youth Congress in Moscow in 1957, where he contracted Asian flu and was hospitalised with pneumonia. He learned Russian to communicate with the nurses and, on his return, took a degree at the School of Slavonic and East European Languages, part of University College London. The Scottish expansion of Russian language teaching enabled him to start teaching at Kilmarnock Academy in 1965. In 1970, he was appointed principal teacher of Russian at George Heriot's in Edinburgh, where he developed a department teaching Russian as a first foreign language to 100 pupils.

Sadly, just as the Soviet Union began to open up under Mikhail Gorbachev's slogans of glasnost and perestroika, Scottish schools were cutting Russian in favour of French mostly. Mike put up a fight for Russian at George Heriot's and even found pupils to volunteer for an 8am class. However, the "real" Russian pupils dwindled to around 10, so he was forced to return to teaching French.

As his health deteriorated, medical retirement became the only way forward. He left George Heriot's in 1988.

Mike loved Russia and visited it at least 40 times, on school trips, exchanges, private visits or as a leader of Sovscot Tours, which were sponsored by the Soviet government. He was a leading member of the former Scotland USSR Society and a founder member of the recently formed Scotland Russia Forum.

He expressed many of his passions through music. Among other instruments, he taught himself the piano accordion. With no Scottish roots, he set up Mike McNeil's Highland Band while a student. The various Caledonian societies in and around London provided the band with regular gigs.

He loved wearing the kilt, adopting the McNeil of Barra tartan. Moving to Scotland with first wife Rosemary, an Edinburgh girl, enabled him to become an adoptive Scot.

Mike was an active member of the Scottish Socialist Party. On November 12, 2005, he marched for the last time in a demonstration which went from Parliament Square down George IV Bridge.

On November 14, 2005, he suffered his first stroke and never came home again from hospital. On March 5 this year, he had a devastating stroke and died three days later.

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