Obituary

Bill Heine: Fearless journalist who put a shark on the roof of his Oxford house

07 April 2019 - 00:00 By The Daily Telegarph


Bill Heine, who has died aged 74, was a British journalist and radio presenter, an independent cinema entrepreneur and the man who made headlines around the world for sticking a shark on the roof of his house in Headington, Oxford.
The 8m fibreglass fish named Untitled 1986 was installed without planning permission on the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb on Nagasaki. Designed by sculptor John Buckley, it was intended as a protest against the US bombing of Libya and as a statement about nuclear weapons.
The shark provoked a storm of outrage and brought repeated calls from Oxford City Council to remove it. Heine fought a six-year battle with the council that ended in 1992 when environment secretary Michael Heseltine intervened and granted retrospective planning permission.
By that time, the sculpture had become a popular landmark, drawing thousands of tourists, and eventually the council became reconciled to its existence. Last year council members were reported to have backed a project to protect it as a permanent part of the city's skyline and Heine was presented with a certificate in recognition of his contribution to the city.
Heine was gratified when, shortly after the sculpture's installation, he heard a US tourist say to his wife: "Come on, Mabel. I want to show you just how crazy the English can be."
Heine was in fact born in the US, on January 9 1945, in the small farming community of Batavia, Illinois. He studied history at Georgetown University in Washington DC, then embarked on a law degree at Balliol College, Oxford.
A self-described "progressive socialist", Heine decided to make Oxford his home, saying the "clincher" had been the National Health Service. "This is a country where the ideals of the people have been enshrined in the way the country organises itself," he explained. "And that, to me, is incredible."
The shark heralded the start of Heine's media career, as he was constantly being interviewed by television and radio stations.
He began writing a column for the local paper and in 1988 BBC Radio Oxford asked him to host a lunchtime phone-in programme.
He worked for the station for more than 30 years, becoming known as an opinionated and fearless interviewer.
In 2017 he was diagnosed with leukaemia but he continued writing until his final days. He is survived by his partner, Jane Hanson, a potter, and by their son. 
1945-2019
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited 2019

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