Having organised three massive airshows at Blenheim Palace, Francis Rockliff is the first to admit his faults. “I am a good entrepreneur, not a good businessman,” he said. “I am a showman —make them laugh, make them cry.”

He certainly managed to do that with the first event in 2003. The 1940s-style festival broke new ground, celebrating 100 years of flight with a choreographed three-hour air display, set to stirring music of the period, using giant screens and a sound system.

In between displays, a digital soundtrack from movie classics such as 633 Squadron, Star Wars, and Live and Let Die introduced each performer.

Backed by London impresario Harvey Goldsmith and sponsors Virgin Atlantic, the event was voted a big success, attracting a crowd of 25,000.

For the next show, in 2005, Mr Rockliffe enlisted a company from Cirencester called CMc Media to run the event. But things went badly wrong and CMc went into administration, claiming thousands of people managed to get in without buying tickets.

Dozens of suppliers lost thousands of pounds — as did Mr Rockliff — but his ebullient personality enabled him to bounce back.

“I managed because they loved the show. Everyone from Blenheim Palace to the Ministry of Defence to the supply chain agreed to come back and do a third show, where nobody lost money,” he said.

That was in 2007, despite the heaviest rain for 250 years on the day of the show. “We still managed to pack in 12,500 people and the substantial backers behind it meant that we were able to meet our costs.”

Now he has vowed to put this year’s event which takes place on Sunday (August 21) on a stable business footing.

His search for financial backing led him to the Reuben brothers, millionaire owners of Oxford Airport.

They offered free use of the airport, which means that this year spectators can watch take-offs and landings of a wider range of aircraft, plus static displays.

He has also enlisted old schoolfriend, David Hurst, as commercial director.

The pair have known each other since they were both at the Roman Catholic independent school Stonyhurst College in Lancashire.

But while Mr Rockliff went into showbusiness as a producer (via an earlier career as owner of restaurants including Bunter’s Bistro in Cowley Road and Fasta Pasta in Oxford’s Covered Market) Mr Hurst was producing events for the corporate market, culminating in organising the Hong Kong handover ceremony in 1997.

He left corporate life in January to join Mr Rockliff, aiming to steer the show to new heights.

Now the pair plan to establish a permanent home at the airport and take the event on tour to racecourses owned by the Reubens throughout Britain, including Cheltenham.

Mr Hurst said: “I had seen the show twice before. I felt it was a great show, but undervalued — great entertainment that could be produced and moved forward.”

Another business tie-up is with Fabulous Feasts, a joint venture between Jamie Oliver and Nigel Harris’s company Fresh Direct, of Bicester, which will provide catering at this year’s show, producing a new revenue stream.

The pair also hope to entice more stallholders, with vintage clothing making its first appearance this year. Revenue also comes from companies such as Elsevier, Oxford Aviation, Eurocopter and Thames Valley Police, who have taken space for corporate entertaining which Mr Rockliff refers to as “staff days out rather than events for fat cats.”

Mr Hurst has driven down costs by bringing in more sponsors.

Mr Rockliff said: “We have a £500,000 show that is costing £220,000, partly because we have a free venue which would normally cost £45,000 to £50,000. The fact that Kidlington is an operational airport has reduced costs, as well as providing greater entertainment."

Both men were born into business families. Mr Rockliff’s family's print company, later an IT business, was sold in 1999, while Mr Hurst’s heritage is Richard Threlfall, a firm which made textile machinery for mills and is still engaged in manufacturing. But Mr Rockliff sees his role as that of an artist.

“I compare it to theatre or cinema design, where the spectator sits in front of the big screen,” he said.

A First World War air display, for example, is accompanied by poetry from Wilfred Owen and archive film footage of a soldier weeping as he carries a dead comrade.

“I use all the senses. It is a very emotional show. There is no one who leaves dry-eyed. It is a movie in the sky. That's why it has been expensive because I have tried to see through to the spirit of the thing.”

He added: “The challenge is to turn this theatrical experience into a financial model for the future. We need a businessman like David to turn it into a financial success.”

They need 8,000 ticket sales to break even. Llet’s hope there is not a nail-biting finalé to this show.