Local Legend: Bill Heine

Oxford grad, cinema geek, modern art lover and king of the local airwaves...

Bill Heine is an Oxford eccentric, but not your usual peculiar tutor or barmy bus-stop companion.

He’s the reason for the continued existence of indie cinema mecca The Penultimate Picture Palace in Cowley, the brainchild of the bizarre Headington Shark, and BBC Radio Oxford’s maverick presenter.

Moving from America to study law as a postgrad at Balliol in the 1960s, Heine fell in love with the area: The place was buzzing, it was so full of energy and light.’

In 1976 he discovered the decaying Oxford Picture Palace on Cowley Road and bought it along with the Moulin Rouge Cinema in Headington.

He restored the cinemas, renaming them and attaching controversial sculpture to the outside: a huge pair of hands and a racy pair of legs.

Heine describes the cinema’s 1970s heyday as ‘a very political time.’ He quickly gained a reputation for the Penultimate Picture Palace by challenging censorship and screening controversial cinema.

Ian Hislop was an Oxford student and cinema-goer at the time: ‘This was an independent cinema that showed whatever it felt like whether you liked it or not really!

Cool kids queue up at the PPP

Not afraid to take the law in his hands, in 1985 Heine planned to screen ‘a pretty explosive film’ – the banned documentary ‘MI5’s Official Secrets’, exposing phone tapping by MI5 headquarters at Cheltenham.

The Independent Broadcasting Standards Agency stopped Heine from showing the film on the grounds of national security, about which he casually remarks look, if you’re going to sail, why not sail in dangerous waters?

In 1988, Heine incurred the wrath of Stanley Kubrick with a now-infamous attempted screening of the taboo film ‘A Clockwork Orange’.

The free showing never started: before the curtains rose it was announced to a full audience that the director had sent an injunction to stop the screening. Stanley Kubrick’s lawyer arrived with a writ and served it on Bill Heine in a pub in Cowley.

A short shark shock to the neighbourhood

In 1986 Heine employed sculptor Jeff Buckley to design and install a 25-foot fiberglass shark to the roof of his semi-detached house in Headington, taking on Oxford County Council in the process.

Quickly escalating to a matter of national importance, Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine eventually ruled that the aquatic appendance should stay.

The controversial local landmark has since become somewhat of a national curio.

Take that Damien Hirst

Nowadays, Heine can be found shaking up BBC Radio Oxford as resident silver fox, a career ironically jumpstarted by Shark-gate: ‘the bosses took me out for a long liquid lunch and said why don’t you join us on the other side of the microphone?’

The self-proclaimed ‘Heinstein of the Airwaves’ is known for his subversive and eccentric interview style, shaking up local radio since 1989 with his controversial take on everything from local art to Oxford United Football Club.


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