The Headington Shark – a 25ft fibreglass sculpture sticking out of the roof of a terraced house in New High Street - has been a beloved landmark in Oxford for the past 30 years.

It was commissioned by Bill Heine, an American-born journalist and broadcaster, who came to Oxford in the 1960s to study at Oxford University. He worked at BBC Oxford and the Oxford Mail.

The Guardian reported that he came up with the idea while sitting on a doorstep opposite his newly purchased house, chatting with his sculptor friend John Buckley over a glass of wine, when he asked Mr Buckley: “Can you do something to liven it up?”

He has also said he intended it to be a protest against the American bombing of Libya while also describing it as a statement about nuclear weapons.

Mr Buckley worked with a group of volunteers for three months, building the shark on an artificial roof created outside his studio. No one knew where it was going to be sited.

Planning row

On Saturday August 9, 1986, at 5am, he drove the shark to New High Street on a tractor trailer where a large crane was waiting. The shark was slotted into the roof “just as the postman was passing”, said Mr Buckley.

A six-year planning row immediately erupted.

Oxford City Council opposed the installation, stating that it was dangerous to the public, but engineers and inspectors pronounced it structurally safe.

Mr Heine then submitted a planning application, which was rejected.

So he appealed to Michael Heseltine – then the Environment Secretary.  

The council held public forums where people could speak for or against the sculpture. People came from far afield to defend what they saw as art.

Mr Heseltine’s planning inspector ultimately came out in favour of the sculpture in a landmark ruling for town planners.

He said the council’s fears about “proliferation with sharks (and heaven knows what else) crashing through roofs all over the city” were “exaggerated”.

Airbnb attraction

Oxford Mail:

To preserve the shark Bill’s son Magnus bought the house in 2016 and it is now a star attraction on Airbnb.

The property sleeps 12 guests and currently boasts a 4.65 rating on the rental site.

One guest, reviewing his stay, wrote: "A great location, and a fun house. Something to talk about and remember for years later."

Another said: "Great location, great shark. Had a great time."

Mr Heine died of cancer, aged 74, in 2019. 

Tributes flooded in from many locals - including from many city councillors.

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