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Man’s battle over 25ft shark sticking out of roof as loving son wrestles with dad’s legacy

The owner of an iconic house with a 25ft shark sticking out of its roof has told of his anger over council plans to give it listed status after his dad’s long row to install it in the first place.

Dr Magnus Hanson-Heine, a University of Nottingham chemistry researcher who inherited the landmark property in Oxford, said “it would be exactly the opposite of the point” if the property was added to the city council’s list of important pieces of heritage.

His dad Bill Heine appointed architect John Buckley to install the statue on the top of the house as a protest against “planning restrictions and censorship” in 1986.

The 34-year-old said: “My dad was living in a cinema he owned across the road called the Moulin Rouge.

“Him, John and their friends had put up these sculpted Can Can legs on top of the house, but then the council at the time said no so politely asked them to be removed, and ultimately forced them them to be taken down.

“So there has been an ongoing battle with the council about public art and what you can and cannot put on display on a property you own.”

Magnus – who also studied at undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD level in Nottingham – said that the shark also represents a stance against war, and that his dad came up with this idea after reading a newspaper one morning about the bombing in Tripoli.

Dr Hanson-Heine added: “On his first night in the house he was awoken by planes flying very low overhead.

“In the morning he learned about the bombing, and obviously he has just moved into this new house and had this sense of stability and safety, but he was seeing all these images in the paper of the houses that had been destroyed.

“So those two things came together – and anti-war and anti-bombing protest on the one hand, and a stance against censorship on the other hand.”

His dad sadly passed away in 2019, leaving behind a son who is determined to stand up for his father’s legacy.



Bill Heine appointed architect John Buckley to install the statue on the top of the house in 1986.
Bill Heine appointed architect John Buckley to install the statue on the top of the house in 1986.

He added: “We have got an unending influx of people coming down to take photos in front of the house – and it has been like that for 40 years.

“It is amazing to see – I would say that it became a landmark.”

Dr Hanson-Heine had lived in Lenton, Beeston and Wollaton Park during his time in Nottingham but moved back to Oxford before the pandemic. He does not currently live in the house and is instead renting it as an Airbnb.

He added: “When I first tried to rent it, I had great trouble because people do not want to live like that – everyone is taking pictures of the shark so it clearly puts some people off.

“But I suspect it attracts other people too – people can actually come in and rent the place and be very close to it in the near future.”

However, the council is now asking residents to comment on 17 potential new additions to the Oxford Heritage Asset Register. One of the proposed sites includes the shark house at 2 New High Street, Headington which draws hundreds of visitors each year.

The owner of the famous shark house added: “The public consultation did not actually have the option to say no.

“It only had two real questions. One was ‘is our description of the property correct’ which it was, and the other question they asked is ‘does the property bring value to the area’ , which I think very few people would disagree with.

“I think it does bring value to the area objectively. But there was no actual question or space for you to say that it should not be lifted.

“So they, their consultation was again, effectively lacking the option to really object it.

“It’s very ironic, that that’s how they went about doing that when the sculpture was a protest against censorship.”

He also said that he has not received a letter prior to the public consultation – and has now submitted a formal complaint to Oxford City Council.

Asked about what he thinks now that his dad would want, the heartbroken son said: “I really wish he would have let me know.

“I would love to know.

“We spoke very briefly about it before he died – he had cancer.

“He said that there would be two narratives after his long battle with the council to keep the sculpture.

“On the one hand, the council would finally come round and they would love it when they hated it before – and this being a sort of affirmation.

“And on the other is that it’s a totally new council and they’re imposing their will again.

“It’s just that they happen to like it now – so you could never remove it whereas before they didn’t like it, so you absolutely couldn’t have it – both of which the sculpture sort of opposes.

“So we had that conversation, but it wasn’t very conclusive. I don’t know what he would make of it now that it’s actually happening.”

In response to Dr Hanson-Heine’s anger, an Oxford City Council spokesperson said: “The Headington Shark was nominated by members of the public to be designated as a heritage asset.

“The council sent letters of notice of nomination in November to all owners of property that had been nominated so they could share their views as part of the public consultation, whether this be for or against the nomination.

“The public consultation closed on 26 January and we will now consider the responses.”

For more information about the house, please visit www.headingtonshark.com.

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