If, like me, you’d never seen this image before, it’s called the Headington Shark!
On Saturday 9th August 1986, the postman was greeted by the installation of this giant shark as he walked his early round on New High Street in Headington, a small suburb of Oxford.
The shark was commissioned by Bill Heine, an american journalist who originally came to study law at Oxford University in the 1960’s. He later went on to run two local cinemas and to work for BBC Oxford and the Oxford Mail.
When Bill first bought the house, he sat outside with a sculptor friend, John Buckley, and asked “can you do anything to liven it up?” and the idea of the shark was born. It then took three months to build, is 25ft long and weighs four hundred weight.
Naturally, Oxford City Council tried to have the structure removed, on the grounds that it was “dangerous to the public” and given that planning permission had never been requested. Subsequently, after several years of protracted legal red tape, permission was finally granted and the shark has survived. The police were powerless to intervene as there is no law stating it is illegal to erect a shark on your own roof.
When asked by journalists at the time what the shark was supposed to signify, this was Bill’s response:
“The shark was to express someone feeling totally impotent and ripping a hole in their roof out of a sense of impotence and anger and desperation…. It is saying something about CND, nuclear power, Chernobyl and Nagasaki.”
The date that the statue was erected was chosen specifically to coincide with the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki.
Sadly, Bill Heine passed away in 2019, but today the house is owned by his son Magnus and has been extended into the adjoining property, and is currently available to rent on AirBnB.
On a personal note, I think the world would be a much more interesting place with a few more people like Bill Heine!