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Wednesday, 2 February, 2000, 16:21 GMT
If not Jeeves, then who?

By BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley

Internet search engine Ask Jeeves is reportedly being threatened with legal action by PG Wodehouse's literary agents for using the name of the late writer's most famous creation.

Gentleman's gentleman Jeeves first appeared in Wodehouse's 1917 work The Man With Two Left Feet.

Together with his young master, Bertie Wooster, the butler has become one of the most enduring characters in comic literature.

Thanks to numerous film and TV appearances, the faithful manservant has come to represent all that is reliable and unflappable.

Ask Jeeves Inc, which uses an image of a butler on its site, did not seek permission to use the copyrighted name, according to reports.

John Hurt in 1984 Big Brother's watching Winston Smith
Should Wodehouse's agents force the renaming of the 1.2bn internet enterprise, it could mean the end for one of the web's most recognisable names.

To forge a new, readily identifiable corporate image, what might happen if Ask Jeeves considered backing another famous literary character?

Ask Winston Smith

Questions to this everyman of Orwell's 1984 will require careful thought. Simple English will not do, questions must be put in ultra-efficient "Newspeak".

If you're shopping around a "double-plus-good site" for a new job, while still using your current employer's time, beware. Big Brother is watching.

Ask Jay Gatsby

The doomed hero of F Scott Fitzgerald's sentimental The Great Gatsby is bound to be evasive about most topics - especially those concerning his past.

He's also inclined to make things up. Great if you're into web conspiracy theories - not so great if you really do want "to find out how the internal combustion engine works".

Ask Hamlet

If Shakespeare's Dane deigns to answer your query about how to find "real estate" in your area, it'll be a longwinded affair.

Sam Smith as Oliver Twist Twist in the tail: Ask Oliver wants more!
Be prepared for plenty of contradictions, about turns, and philosophical rambling.

For concerned parents, an associated site, Ask Hamlet Kids, will allow sites unsuitable for the nippers to be barred.

Ask Bridget Jones

Helen Fielding's modern heroine is perfect should you want to know how to give up smoking, lose weight or find a man.

But remember to ask this truculent UK version of Ally McBeal nicely. Say how slim she's looking - otherwise you're as likely to get a faceful of Chardonnay as find the site you want.

Ask Oliver Twist

Pretty useless really. However precise you make you search, however much detail you include - Ask Oliver will still come back demanding more.

Ask Charles Swann

This central character from Marcel Proust's encyclopaedic A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, will consider all questions.

It may take you some time to wade through the 4,900 pages he points you to, though.

Ask Estragon and Vladimir

The patient pair from Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot may not be geared up for the speed of e-culture.

Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting Trainspotters choose Ask Mark Renton
Be prepared to watch the egg timer for days on end after submitting a question - especially if you ask: "Why are we here?"

Once it "times out", this search engine won't baffle you with technical jargon or unhelpful suggestions from its Help menu. It is content with a refreshing: "Nothing to be done."

Ask Mark Renton

Irvine Welsh's trainspotter may be just the thing to ensure a loyal following in the crucial teenage market.

Parents and guardians may be alarmed with the engine's willingness to answer such posers as: "Where can I buy hard drugs?"

Dominique Swain in Lolita Lolita: Some questions shouldn't be asked
Never fear, impressionable youngsters are bound to have grown out of their rebellious phases long before they decipher the Scottish dialect reply.

"Ya geen ta a mon doown ma stree call'd Seek-boy."

Ask Lolita

If there's anything you want to ask Nabokov's nymphet, do yourself a favour. Don't ask.

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