HE made Eastleigh famous by including Market Street in the chart-topping song about Ernie who drove the fastest milk cart in the west.

Now the Daily Echo can reveal that the Hampshire town could be the home for a statue which will be a permanent salute to the former Eastleigh milkman who became one of the world's greatest comics.

Southampton - Hill's birth place - had orginally been mooted as a possible site for the statue. However, TV critic Garry Bushell, who has been leading the Benny Hill Statue Campaign, says that Eastleigh is now the hot favourite.

There is already a plaque acknowledging the comedian's links with the town and his international fame. A statue would bring fans flocking from around the world.

Garry said: "We have had talks with Eastleigh Council and they are very keen. My aim would be to have it in place by 2008."

"The statue will cost £35,000 plus VAT. We have already raised £5,000 to get it to the design stage. Support for the campaign has come from across the board."

It includes a glittering array of showbiz celebrities including Barbara Windsor, Bradly Walsh and Brian Conley.

The latest development on the statue comes after the profile of Benny Hill was raised this week in a TV documentary analysing whether his humour would raise a laugh with the youngsters of today.

Garry described him as a "comic genius" and called for a repeat of his classic programmes.

On his website Mr Bushell hails Benny Hill as "Britain's biggest ever comedy export" and says he is still popular with global audiences.

Wherever the Benny Hill show is broadcast it remains a huge ratings success," he said, adding: "Hill's fans range from Dame Edna to Tom Wolfe via Greta Garbo, Clint Eastwood and Snoop Dog. Every big US act seems to love our Benny. Even the Black Eyed Peas are fans."

Garry says that Hill's brand of humour appealed to all age groups and he is still incensed with the way that the cheeky comic was axed by the TV moguls.

He said: "ITV should hang their heads in shame. When he died Benny was heartbroken by the way he had been treated."