Journalist who gained notoriety by sticking a fibreglass shark on the roof of his house

Born: January 9, 1945;

Died: April 2, 2019

BILL Heine, who has died aged 74, was a campaigning local journalist and radio presenter who suddenly came to national prominence when he installed a 25ft long fibre glass shark named Untitled 1986 on his house in Headington, a suburb of Oxford.

The incident caused a local outcry and after the media picked up the story Heine became a widely known celebrity. The shark was designed by his friend the sculptor John Buckley and erected by Heine without planning permission on the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb on Nagasaki in 1945. It was a very public protest against both the American bombing of Libya and nuclear weapons.

At the time Heine justified his action. “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.”

Heine was a colourful and flamboyant man who built up a wide following on BBC Radio Oxford. But the shark became a local landmark and, eventually, a tourist attraction. It appeared to have crashed into the roof from the sky with slates stuck into its fins. The house is a very ordinary terraced house and turmoil soon broke out with complaints to Oxford City Council to remove it immediately.

For six years Heine had lengthy and indecisive meetings with the council until in 1992 the Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine intervened and granted retrospective planning permission.

Last year Oxford Council backed a proposal to protect it as a permanent part of the city's skyline and Heine was presented with a special certificate of merit in recognition of his contribution to the city. One councillor proposed the shark be recommended for the council's heritage asset register, and even that it should be listed by English Heritage.

Heine, a larger-than-life American, was much amused when he overheard an American tell his wife, "Come on, Mabel. I want to show you just how crazy the English can be."

Heine was born in the farming community of Illinois. He read American diplomatic history at Georgetown University, Washington DC (where a class mate was the future President Bill Clinton) and then read law at Balliol College, Oxford. On the outbreak of war in Vietnam he was sent home, but avoided military service by volunteering for the Peace Corps in Nicaragua and Peru before returning to Oxford.

After gaining his degree he decided to settle in Oxford but not to practise law. Instead, in 1976, he bought a redundant cinema, renamed it the Penultimate Picture Palace or "PPP" ("Penultimate" because his bank manager told him that if it was not the ultimate reckless enterprise it was the next worst thing).

He displayed a love of the downright unusual even then. Heine installed a sculpture by John Buckley of the jazz singer, Al Jolson, in minstrel make-up as if saying ‘You ain’t heard nothin yet’. Buckley would later create a pair of can-can dancer's legs for the PPP's sister venue Not the Moulin Rouge in Headington.

Both cinemas gained a good reputation as art house cinemas showing foreign and classic movies.

Heine was asked to do a weekly column – he had proved a natural interviewee on television about the shark. He wrote for the Oxford Mail (Heine on Friday) and in1988 Radio Oxford asked him to do a lunchtime phone-in and interview programme. He accepted cheerfully despite the station saying, "This is the beginning of something big. This is why we're going to pay you peanuts."

For 30 years his voice was heard and his programme became a regular feature for Oxford audiences. Heine interviewed many local celebrities and such leading political and theatre figures as David Cameron (a local MP), Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg, Ricky Gervais and Alan Bennett.

He was forthright in his opinions and not afraid to confront his interviewees with some fearless questioning.

Heine wrote two books. The first detailed the excitement and controversy over the installation of the shark (The Hunting of the Shark) – in the book, Heine joyously tells of the on-going dramas, legal and local battles he experienced over the six years. “As the missiles fell in Libya” he wrote with typical gusto “a shark-missile landed in Oxford.”

He also wrote Heinstein of the Airwaves which told of his experiences on Radio Oxford.

He is survived by his partner, Jane Hanson, a potter, and their son.