Southampton comedian Benny Hill swapped a luxurious Rolls-Royce car for a horse-drawn milk float when he officially opened the new housing development at Townhill Park almost exactly half a century ago today.

The date was September 30, 1959 and Benny was given a ceremonial key to the front door of the gleaming new show home in a blaze of publicity marking the construction of some of the most modern homes in Southampton.

Back in those days Benny, born Alfred Hawthorne Hill in Southampton on January 21, 1924, had become the first British comedian to hit the big time through television. Over the following 40 years he would claim the title of one of the most popular funnymen the UK produced and his fame would reach worldwide audiences with his shows sold to 109 different countries.

At the time Benny was making his personal appearance at Townhill Park he had gained many fans from the success of his radio series as well television shows.

A reminder of his earlier days before he became a show business personality came as Benny switched from a Rolls-Royce at Woodmill to clamber up on a horse-drawn milkfloat to make his entrance at Townhill Park.

Wearing a milkman’s cap and white coat Benny took over the reins from Ron Beale, a groom at the Brown and Harrision’s dairy, and guided Edie, the 15-year-old mare between the shafts, to a stop outside the show home.

It was his time with Brown and Harrison’s that would later give Benny the inspiration for his hit comedy record of Ernie, (The Fastest Milkman in the West).’’ The area was being developed by builders James Miller, who were constructing a total of 1,000 homes in Southampton at the time, including another development at Glen Eyre.

Described as a “three bedroomed, contemporary detached residence’’ the show house was an example of the most expensive home, which was on offer at £3,100 while at the other end of the scale was a one-bedroomed masionette that could be bought for £1,995.

“The glossy cedarwood facing over the front door and again on the rear elevation is a striking feature,’’ said the Daily Echo at the time.

“The glass bricks, facing bricks and cement rendering blend with the tapering chimney breast to give a comfortable country look suited well to the surroundings.’’ As his fame grew, Benny moved to London although he kept a house in Southampton and in later years he was often seen walking along Westwood Road carrying bags full of shopping.

By the 1990s his health began to decline and despite being urged to undergo heart surgery Benny refused to have an operation.

Benny died on or about April 19, 1992 alone in his London flat at Teddington at the age of 68. His body was only discovered two days later when police broke into his home and found the comedian sitting in his armchair in front of the television.

Buried at Southampton’s Hollybrook Cemetery, Benny’s grave was the subject of a bizarre attempt by thieves to exhume his body following rumours he had been buried with large amounts of gold jewellery.

Nothing was discovered and Benny was re-buried with a new coffin lid beneath a solid slab of stone on top of the grave.

In 2006, the broadcaster and television critic, Garry Bushell launched a campaign to erect a statue of Benny in Southampton, with the support of EastEnders and Carry On star, Barbara Windsor together with entertainer, Brian Conley. As yet no statue has been erected.