It was every event organiser’s worst nightmare - writ large.
The Kent County Show posed a classic challenge in disaster management. And to be fair to the Kent County Agricultural Society, organisers didn’t do too badly in that area. Communications combined with action is key.
You have to hand it to George Jessel, the doughty chairman and former military officer who communicated to the media as quickly and frankly as he could. He had some tough decisions to take amid conflicting advice from police, highway chiefs and weather pundits.
He came in for a media grilling but bravely fessed up in a stressful situation.
But there’s no doubt he was let down by poor signage - the show was not closed as stated by the road signs, but most of the car parks were. Many probably stayed away when they might well have got in. Many people were so keen to get into the show that they parked their cars outside the ground. Bad publicity is bizarrely often good publicity, giving the show a profile it’s not enjoyed for years.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it’s easy to blame organisers for not putting down bark chippings, sawdust and taking a host of precautions ahead of Thursday night’s deluge. But not all the fields are controlled by the society.
Many traders had a bad show, with disappointing takings and understandably vowing never to return. Many came a long way.
But they should remember that other shows like the Great Yorkshire were abandoned or cut short. Jessel and his team were determined to keep the show on the road in the face of daunting odds. We cannot change the British weather. The Kent County Show went on regardless of the mud, slipping and sliding - and most visitors showed dogged British grit to enjoy themselves despite the squelch.
And the numbers were surprisingly good, confirmed by the official attendance figure of 50,000, not bad for a virtual washout. If the figures are to be believed, the figure was not too far short of last year’s 67,000.
But that’s a far cry from the 100,000-plus that used to regard the show as an annual must and a marvellous shop window for the high-quality output of the Garden of England.
KCAS faces a whopping loss - probably at least £300,000 - but the show loses money in most years. It’s sensible of the society to invest in conference facilities that spread the risk and bring in substantial year-round revenues.
As for George Jessel, he is due to step down in February after six years as chairman. The 2012 show would be a sad way for him to go. He has shown leadership and charisma at the KCAS helm, taking it into the 21st century and steering it away from reliance on the show. He will be a hard act to follow and, if he can stand more flak, deserves the chance to stay on a little longer. One commentator described his response to trying circumstances as heroic.
It may be against the rules but in this case and in the interests of the society, they could be broken. He should be remembered for far more than the Detling quagmire - and allowed to step down after a thumping success rather than a damp disappointment.