The Headington Shark landed on the roof of 2 New High Street on Aug. 9, 1986, the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.
The house’s owner, Radio Oxford presenter Bill Heine, 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.”
That sounds nice, but it’s still a big shark. The city council couldn’t argue that it was dangerous — Heine had special girders installed to support the 25-foot fiberglass body — but in 1990 they insisted it counted as unpermitted “development.” Heine appealed to the secretary of state for the environment, Peter Macdonald, who supported him: “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.'”
So the fish stayed. And it seems to be growing on people. In 1992, Times writer Bernard Levin called the shark “delightful, innocent, fresh and amusing — all qualities abhorred by such committees.”