The Headington Shark

The Headington Shark (proper name Untitled 1986) is a rooftop sculpture located at 2 New High Street, Headington, Oxford, England, depicting a large shark embedded head-first in the roof of a house.

The shark first appeared on 9 August 1986. Bill Heine, a local radio presenter who owned the house until 2016, has said “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 sculpture, which is reported to weigh 4 long hundredweight (200 kg) and is 25 feet (7.6 m) long, fibreglass, is named Untitled 1986 (written on the gate of the house). The sculpture was erected on the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. It was designed by sculptor John Buckley and constructed by Anton Castiau, a local carpenter and friend of John Buckley.

For the occasion of the shark’s 21st anniversary in August 2007, it was renovated by the sculptor, following earlier complaints about the condition of the sculpture and the house. On 26 August 2016 Bill Heine’s son Magnus Hanson-Heine bought the house in order to preserve the Headington Shark.

Controversy

Created by sculptor John Buckley, the shark was controversial when it first appeared. Oxford City Council tried to have it taken down on grounds of safety, and then on the ground that it had not given planning permission for the shark, offering to host it at the local swimming pool instead, but there was much local support for the shark. Eventually the matter was taken to the central government, where Tony Baldry, a minister in the Department of the Environment, who assessed the case on planning grounds, ruled in 1992 that the shark would be allowed to remain as it did not result in harm to the visual amenity.

Media appearances

The unexpected shark appeared in a 2002 newspaper advertising campaign for a new financial advice service offered by Freeserve. The advertisement, designed by M&C Saatchi, featured a photograph of the house with the caption “Freedom to find the mortgage that’s right for you”.

In 2013, the sculpture was the subject of an April Fools’ Day story in the Oxford Mail, which announced the establishment of a fictitious £200,000 fund by Oxford City Council to support the creation of similar sculptures on the roofs of other homes in the area.

In 2015, the sculpture was featured in the Channel 4 programme Damned Designs, which focuses on properties that have not followed planning permission. On 1 February 2017 the Headington shark was the answer to a question posed on BBC2’s Eggheads. Via Wiki

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