Giving tryst to the people

by Stephen Tall on June 23, 2006

Graffiti artist, Banksy, has been at it again – this time painting overnight an ‘interrupted tryst’ 10 metres up a council office wall in Bristol.

Having seen the picture of it in today’s thegrauniad, left, I think it looks abso-bloody-lutely fantastic.

Just as good, the Council has promised the issue of whether this work of art stays or goes will be decided by a vote among local residents.

In agreeing to respect the popular will, Bristol City Council is dealing rather better with the issue than some humourless Labour city councillors in Oxford did, back in the 1980s, when they sought to have removed the now world-famous Headington shark.

Designed by sculptor, John Buckley, and commissioned by cinema impresario (and now BBC Radio Oxford presenter), Bill Heine, this 25-foot long fibreglass sculpture was winched into its very domestic terraced setting in 1986.

Commenting on his inspiration, Mr Heine remarked at the time:

“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.”

The City Council (including Andrew Smith, now Labour MP for Oxford East, then a city councillor) repeatedly attempted to have the scupture removed, apparently fearing some kind of mass Dr Who-style invasion of ‘copy-cat’ sharks throughout the city.

The six-year legal battle culminated in the 1992 decision by Michael Heseltine, Secretary of State for the Environment, that it could stay, “having concluded that the shark does not cause such demonstrable harm to visual amenity as to justify refusing consent for its retention”. (Though Heseltine also decided that its popularity among neighbours was irrelevant, sniffily intoning: “the case must be decided on its planning merits, not by resorting to ‘utilitarianism’ in the sense of the greatest good of the greatest number.”)

Planning should not seek to impose rigid conformity, still less to stamp out creativity and originality. I hope the residents of Bristol give Banksy’s efforts a resounding vote of approval, and demand the Council continues to maintain his graffito as a work of art.

(Hat-tip to for the Shark photo and background information.)