Damien Hirst's famous 1992 shark, aka The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, came second. Six years earlier, the 25ft-long fibreglass Headington Shark was jammed into the roof of a small suburban terraced house in Headington High Street, Oxford. A Hirstian title for it might be, The Possibility of How Very Dare They in the Shires.
A new book by the shark's perpetrator, Bill Heine, gives a funny, engrossing account of the sculpture. Made by John Buckley, and erected without full planning permission, it provoked a perfect storm of nimbyish outrage. "Well, all I can say is, it wasn't there last night," ran a heading in the Oxford Star. The council's key objections were that the shark could encourage others to erect works of art on their houses; that it would be harder to refuse applications for house extensions; and property values would plummet.
Heine recalls an elderly local woman resident bellowing at him: "You're lowering the tone of the street! We don't have sharks on our roofs here. It's disgusting. You'd have been far better off taking a nice pose of my voluptuous body and putting it on top of your house." A year after the shark's erection – it was initially granted temporary status – the Oxford Star's front-page splash headline announced: "Fin-tastic! Public hooked on landmark."
These segues, from furious objection to amused engagement, characterise this very British story of a brilliant pop-up (or perhaps bite-down) theatre of the absurd.
'The Hunting of the Shark' by Bill Heine is published by Oxfordfolio