Back in the mid 90’s when I was in secondary school, as we call it in the UK, and around 14 years of age something memorably hilarious happened not far from where I lived.
Two towns over in Bearsden, a leafy affluent suburb just outside Glasgow, a scandal was in the air. That scandal involved a 30+-year-old man posing as a 15-year-old high school student and getting away with it.
Brian MacKinnon had successfully enrolled himself as a fifth-year student at Bearsden Academy using fake documentation and the assumed identity of 15-year-old Brandon Lee.
I mean it’s almost too good to be true. But it proves that reality truly can be stranger than fiction.
Just imagine it, a 30-year-old man shows up at a high school in the summer of 93′ saying he wants to enrol and provides a fake passport that claims he’s about to turn 16. The backstory included that he had just relocated to central Scotland from Canada, was living locally with an aunt (she was made up to) and to make matters even more absurd he’d decided to plump for the name of the then recently deceased son of the world-famous martial arts expert and movie star Bruce Lee. I mean God knows when MacKinnon decided to come up with this charade but parts of it seem diligently planned and others conducted by the seat of his pants.
In many ways, I suppose it’s understandable. At the time I just found it hilarious and MacKinnon himself a bit of a sad weirdo but now framed through the vantage point of more senior years I can get it. What 30 something male doesn’t want to time travel back to their teenage years and live it all over again and not only that but with the added advantage of the knowledge of foresight gained through all of the prevailing years? Time travel isn’t yet possible yet, so I guess you work with what you’ve got.
The school, of course, couldn’t exactly say no to him. I mean no doubt his appearance must have sent initial alarm bells ringing what with him looking old enough to be all the other kid’s father but if you are weighed down with school admin duties and an unsatisfyingly wage then why the hell should you bother to take the time out to do private investigative work?
All the ‘kids’ paperwork was in order so there was no reason to have doubted him outside of him looking old enough to be an actual teacher himself. It’s kind of like stories you hear of expensive goods being stolen in plain sight from stores, restaurants, and pubs etc. You know when two guys in overalls walk in during the middle of the day and yank a TV off the wall before taking it to their van outside and driving off with it?! When the police arrive and ask why no one stopped them everyone says: “Well officer…….they were wearing overalls.”
There were guys at my school who looked older than their years. Not double their age right enough but older. Though I’m maybe getting appearance mixed up with height. You know that way where if someone is really tall for their age when you’re at school then it’s natural to nominate him to go in and obtain your alcohol from an off-licence before a party? Results were often mixed. A fake ID was usually required even if you were 6’4.
Lee, sorry MacKinnon, not only enrolled but really got into it. He signed up for the school play and even ended up playing the male lead in Bearsden Academy’s much celebrated 1994 production of ‘South Pacific’ where he got to kiss a girl literally half his age though I’m sure his intentions were innocent. I mean the brass balls of it all. Just walking up to hand in the paperwork is one thing followed by showing up on the first day of term and actually attending classes but appearing in the school play? Not only that but, having gotten away with it for a whole year Lee, sorry Mackinnon, decided he was having such a good time that he was going to stay on for another one. That’s right he did an unnecessary 6th year. Surely the key to carrying out a ruse of this nature involves keeping a somewhat low profile but then I suppose by that stage he was in for a penny, in for a pound.
Upon completion of his studies Lee (let’s just call him that for now) achieved 5 A-grade Highers and excellent reviews for his project work. It comes as no surprise then that he was accepted with open arms into the medical faculty of the University of Dundee where he finally got his chance to study towards his apparent lifelong ambition of becoming a doctor.
Alas like all good stories this pantomime had to come to an end. Lee finally ran out of luck whilst holidaying with two of his female classmates, the sly dog, in Majorca in the summer of 95′. I presume the trip was his idea.
Finally showing his age he got himself into a barroom brawl and was subsequently arrested. When the Spanish authorities went to his accommodation they discovered two passports. One was for Brian MacKinnon aged 32 and the other was for a guy who looked just like him called Brandon Lee aged 17. Wouldn’t it just be perfect if it turns out the brawl started after he was refused service for being underage? Little chance of that though. Unlike mid 90’s Bearsden secondary school teachers most bartenders I’ve ever encountered can usually tell the difference between a 17 and 32-year-old.
Undaunted MacKinnon pushed on and went to Dundee University in any event. Things weren’t quite as fun as high school though and suspecting the educational authorities were onto him he dropped out.
The game was finally up.
So now we get to the main question that being, why the hell did he do it in the first place? If he was so desperate to go to medical school and become a doctor then in order to obtain the relevant higher exam pass marks to gain entrance he could just have enrolled at the school as an adult “returner” or even attended the local college which was just 10 mins up the road in Anniesland. But instead, he went down the far more abstract and infinitely more entertaining route of creating the identity of a Canadian student half his actual age called Brandon Lee. Top marks for effort.
David Alexander, the local council’s deputy education director, said: “We are totally bemused by this case.”
I’ll bet he was. Those sentiments pretty much summed up the feelings of most people at the time.
Why he did pursue that avenue I suppose is anyone’s guess. Only Lee, I mean MacKinnon knows and he’s never been too forthcoming about it. We know he did actually originally attend Bearsden Academy in the mid-1970’s to early 80’s and had similar academic success before then going on to Glasgow University where he studied medicine. He was asked to leave though after repeating his 2nd year and failing to pass three of the four end of year exams even after resits. Being that Glasgow medical students are required to pass their course within six years then you only get leeway to repeat one year therefore with no time available to allow him to repeat his 2nd year again he was forced to drop out.
He then apparently returned to the university a few years later and completed an honours degree in a science subject though he never graduated.
You can only assume he spent the subsequent years between then and 93′ hatching his diabolical scheme not that it was actually that diabolical. More hilarious, bizarre and pretty sad.
The thing is despite looking double everyone else’s age, having a ridiculous name and sporting a fake Canadian accent – not to mention apparently possessing a vocabulary and academic commitment way beyond his contemporaries – Lee didn’t really stand out as the eccentric weirdo you might have thought that he would have to a bunch of indiscriminate teenagers. Instead, he pretty seamlessly blended in.
Interviewed at the time by The Herald newspaper, his former classmate Gordon Barron stated: “’I thought he was a teacher, but when someone looks older you just get used to it. He was popular and outgoing and told jokes like anyone of our age.”
His classmate Jonathan Shearer concurred: “He said he lived with an aunt. He didn’t invite people home, but he took part in things and was very sociable.”
The headteacher of Bearsden Academy at that time Mr Norman MacLeod added:
“He will be remembered here as an unselfish, considerate, bright, friendly former pupil. Many of the staff, I think, understand his motives and do not feel hostility to his deception.”
Mr MacLeod failed to comment on the fact that some of his teachers had actually taught Lee back when he was still calling himself Brian MacKinnon and he first attended the high school in the 1970’s yet somehow didn’t recognise him 13 years later. Maybe after a while all schools kids faces look alike to teachers. Or maybe they couldn’t have cared less and thought it quite humorous to play along with Brandon and his real-life fantasy project.
In recent times Lee has resurfaced though he now fully acknowledges his real identity.
Back in February of 2017, he was interviewed by the Sun newspaper. That didn’t act as a precursor to me writing this. It just so happened that I found the Sun interview when I was googling his name for some more info.
Sadly Brian MacKinnon has never quite got over his assumed persona it would seem. He has penned a book ‘Rhesus Negative’ on the subject and a whole lot more. If the title is anything to go by there’s a good chance it’s a pretty self-indulgent take on the events that brought him to public attention. In it MacKinnon apparently makes various wild claims including that he has survived assassination attempts, he was injected with a mysterious virus whilst attending Glasgow University medical school in the 80’s and that his expulsion was because the university didn’t want students opposed to the medical faculties attempts to control world population all the while completely failing to acknowledge that academically he just wasn’t up to it.
Oh, and apparently veteran BBC Scotland news presenter Jackie Bird played a significant role in his downfall. He also claims he can regenerate like Doctor Who and that he keeps his autobiography in a cave somewhere in order to stop it falling into the wrong hands. So pretty standard stuff then!
It sounds like quite a yarn. But then again would you expect anything else from someone who at 30 re-enrolled himself as a 5th-year high school student pretending to be 15?!
Just going by some of the content lifted from his book in the Sun article there are also some pretty funny stories from his second stint at the high school. These include someone else with the exact same name as his real name having their name read out at the first day’s registration which understandably caused ‘Brandon’ some anxiety as well as his classmates initially taking the piss out of his persona name of ‘Brandon Lee’ when they laughed at him pointing out the fact it was the same as the then recently deceased actor. MacKinnon claims the similarity was unintentional. You just know that’s bollocks.
In the final analysis, I think Brian MacKinnon just wanted another go at life and in particular his high school years.
But though he successfully pulled it off – for a good while at least – ultimately it would appear he has also failed to make the transition to adulthood for the second time.
Poor Brian, or Brandon or whatever the hell he’s calling himself these days.
It was a glorious effort and in many ways proof that time travel is possible. But just like Icarus, he flew too close to the sun.