Shark In A Roof- Crazy Or Compelling Property?

Apparently I must have been living under a sea rock for the last God knows how long, because I’ve only just been made aware of the fishy resident of Headington, The famous Headington Shark. Take a peak at this, if you haven’t already (all one or two of you I suspect):

Shark In Roof, The Headington Shark

Pretty incredible, yeah? Oh yeah. A few of my regular forum members were discussing this particular property while I read in confusion. As soon as I saw a picture of it I was totally intrigued by it. I was surprised I had never heard anything about it before; it’s not exactly inconspicuous, consequently I’m sure it’s been the talking point for many property enthusiasts. It’s truly unique, and that’s why I thought it deserved some documentation.

The History Of The Shark

Bill HeineThe Shark became the most famous resident of Headington when it appeared in the roof of 2 New High Street on 9 August 1986. Bill Heine is the brains behind the shark and still owns the house. Since 1988 Bill has been better known as a Radio Oxford presenter. Makes sense, it looks like the work of an “entertainer”. I’m sure a lot of people got both tears and laughter out of this piece. Perhaps the work of a true entertainer.

When pressed by journalists to provide a rationale for the shark, Bill suggested the following:

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 headless sculpture, with the label “Untitled 1986”, was brought to life on the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Created by the sculptor John Buckley, it is made of fibreglass, and is 25 feet long.

Oxford City Council tried to get rid of the shark on the grounds that it was dangerous to the public, but engineers inspected the roof and classed it as being ‘safe as houses’. Structurally I’m sure it’s sound, however, perhaps there’s an emotional impact that was overlooked, which could be seen as dangerous. It looks pretty realistic and I’m sure it’s given some of the local kids some unpleasant dreams consisting of shark tales piercing flesh. Nice.

The council then decided that the shark was development within the definition contained in Section 22 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, and that as such it had to be removed. I’m not entirely sure what section 22 defines, but I think the point is that a group of Cognac drinking, cigar smoking Lords didn’t want their town ruined by such a foul monstrosity. The darn thing simply had to go.

The council then kindly offered to display the sculpture in a public building such as a swimming pool. That was a nice gesture, huh? Surprisingly, Psycho Bill rejected the idea. I guess the council overlooked the point that if someone goes to the trouble of putting something like that up on a roof as a global stance on an atomic bomb, it’s kind of insulting to suggest removing it, only to place it in the local swimming pool’s reception.

So the saga continued; the chaps at the local council weren’t going to budge on this. In 1990, Bill was refused retrospective planning permission by Oxford City Council. In 1991 he appealed to the Secretary of State for the Environment (then Michael Heseltine); and in 1992 Heseltine’s Inspector Peter Macdonald came out in favour of the applicant, and had the following to say about the shark:

It is not in dispute that this is a large and prominent feature. That was the intention, but the intention of the appellant and the artist is not an issue as far as planning permission is concerned. The case should be decided on its planning merits, not by resorting to ‘utilitarianism’, in the sense of the greatest good to the greatest number. And it is necessary to consider the relationship between the shark and its setting …. In this case it is not in dispute that the shark is not in harmony with its surroundings, but then it is not intended to be in harmony with them. The basic facts are there for almost all to see. Into this archetypal urban setting crashes (almost literally) the shark. The contrast is deliberate … and, in this sense, the work is quite specific to its setting. As a ‘work of art’ the sculpture (‘Untitled 1986’) would be ‘read’ quite differently in, say, an art gallery or on another site. An incongruous object can become accepted as a landmark after a time, becoming well known, even well loved in the process. Something of this sort seems to have happened, for many people, to the so-called ‘Oxford shark’. The Council is understandably concerned about precedent here. The first concern is simple: proliferation with sharks (and Heaven knows what else) crashing through roofs all over the City. This fear is exaggerated. In the five years since the shark was erected, no other examples have occurred. Only very recently has there been a proposal for twin baby sharks in the Iffley Road. But any system of control must make some small place for the dynamic, the unexpected, the downright quirky. I therefore recommend that the Headington shark be allowed to remain.

To sum it up, the Shark was there to stay. Hooorraaaay. Or not?

Love it or Hate it?

Unlike Marmite, I can’t tell if I love it or hate it (I hate Marmite, by the way). I’m sure there are plenty of people who hate it and a handful of art enthusiasts that love it. Man, you arty farty people are so weird. When a community of people consider randomly splattered paint onto a canvas as being “contemporary art”, you know there’s a problem somewhere.

I guess I both love and hate it. Don’t get me wrong, I think it looks hideous. I mean, I’ve already labeled Bill as crazy, and I’ll continue to do so every time I think of the guy (which will be barely ever, but that’s beside the point). Anyone who is responsible for something so incredibly inappropriate must be short of a few marbles. Normal people would start slicing their wrists in moments of complete “anger and desperation”. Putting a 25ft headless shark on your roof in retaliation of anger and desperation is, well, CRAZY. Perhaps Bill was feeling a level of anger that the average human has yet to feel, a level that couldn’t be helped by razors and short ropes. Who knows, perhaps he just needed to go for a run. That usually works for me.

However, it’s not the first time we’ve seen someone conform to extreme movements over emotions. Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal in memory of his dead wife. It’s a pretty similar scenario; both movements were based on anger and depression. Only difference is that the Taj Mahal is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and arguably one of the most amazing pieces of architecture in human history. It’s made from rare marble and took over 20 years to build and every aspect of the property had a purpose. The Headington Shark, on the other hand, is made from fibreglass, and took a few hours to put up one late night by a group of people that were probably drinking cans of Stella.

Having said all that, there’s something extremely inspirational about nutty Bill going to that kind of extreme because he believed in something. He didn’t put up something beautiful to represent his despair, he said “fuck no” to that. The man was hurting, he wanted to symbolise his pain, and what better to symbolize pain than a 25ft shark?

Only someone with a, “I don’t give a fuck” attitude would conjure up such a reaction to emotional inadequacies. Perhaps the message is more valuable than the actual product, in this case, at least in my eyes. The man didn’t even get planning permission, he “just did it” one night. It’s kind of like living life without a penis your entire life, and then suddenly waking up with a 25ft erection- I guess that’s how his neighbours felt.

He stood up for what he believed in and fought for his rights. Actually, I’m not entirely convinced that it was his right to do that, since it does intrude on the entire community. But it was his right to express himself, and he did, and he won. He won even after the council fought so hard to get his work removed.

As already quoted, the shark was about CND, nuclear power, Chernobyl and Nagasaki. I’m assuming he was complete outraged by the whole movement warfare was taking. I can completely understand the source of his anger, and to witness someone so passionate about such important movements is admirable. But, still, why a fish through your roof, Crazy Bill? Well whatever, I still think what you’ve done is pretty awesome, as strange and ugly as it is (but that was probably the point).

The actual sculpture appears to also look pretty impression. I’ve already mentioned, it looks real and scary, so hats off to the sculpture.

Finally, Bill, I think you’re one crazy fucker, but I get it and I like it. As a standing object, the house is hideous. As a whole package with the knowledge of its purpose, it’s beautiful.

Value of the property

With such unique properties, I guess the value will be determined by the eye of the crazy beholder. If it was put on the market, 2 people out of 10 million people would probably show interest, but those 2 interested radicalisms would probably bid on it until hell freeze over. But then again, people don’t build things like that only to sell it.

More Pictures of the Headington Shark

Shark In Roof, The Headington Shark

Side shot: Shark In Roof, The Headington Shark

Crane support: Shark In Roof, The Headington Shark

Side shot 2: Shark In Roof, The Headington Shark

Side shot 3: Shark In Roof, The Headington Shark

Close up: Shark In Roof, The Headington Shark

5 Join the Conversation...

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Matthew Franklin 29th April, 2008 @ 08:07


This takes me back. I studied Architecture at Oxford Brookes University and saw the Shark a few times.

I even played Ultimate Frisbee for the 'Sharks' in Oxford, who were named after the installation.

It was featured in the Financial Times, in the early nineties I think, who reported that it was a response to over fishing Tuna.

I think it makes a strong statement and looks great.

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megan 3rd April, 2009 @ 17:55

is that a real shark?
because if it is do you know how it got there?
did it like live because it was out of the water?

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jeremy 3rd December, 2009 @ 22:49

First of all to answer your question Megan, the article states that it is not real, besides that a shark would not stay erect (for lack of a better word) while standing vertical.

I dont love or hate it. I do however think its incredibly stupid. Any moron who would think of this as some kind of monument for the bombing is incredibly desperate to try to find a way to make themselves look brilliant or creative. I totally agree with you when it comes to art. Dont get me wrong, I love art but when any idiot who thinks of something stupid, such as suction cups on a wall or paint splattered on a canvas, can get credit for having a lack of talent, it is absurd. Art takes talent(skill), creativity and time (effort,)lacking any of these and all you have is what you see. In this case a fiberglass shark body in a roof. Pretty stupid really, it would be more artistic if it were at the entrance to a watermark. If people want art look up the Notre Dame de Paris, or go to a local art gallery but stop accepting objects that can be done by anyone as art.

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Jenkins 28th October, 2010 @ 01:12

"it would be more artistic if it were at the entrance to a watermark"

Wow. A shark in front of water....that is fucking brilliant! Give this person an award!

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Paul 2nd July, 2011 @ 17:08

Art is much more than being able to demonstrate artistic ability such as drawing, painting or sculpture, that is merely the implementation of a gained artistic skill. Art should delight, provoke or challenge. This is art, because it is a bold statement, it is interesting and well executed, it is visually compelling and above all original.

















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