For more than 70 years, the format of Radio 4's Desert Island Discs has remained the same. Castaways on the imaginary island are given a Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare, then asked to choose their eight favourite records. Now, according to a source at the BBC, senior producers have discussed dropping the Bible as a reflection of our increasingly secular society.
The move comes months after the widow of Roy Plomley, who created the show in 1941, passed away. Diana Wong was 96 when she died last year, and owned the full rights to the show.
In recent years, some guests have objected to being stranded with a Bible. The comedian David Walliams said in 2009: "I don't want the Bible. I don't like the Bible." The previous year, the opera director David McVicar also refused it, but the show's host, Kirsty Young, told him the only permissible substitute would be another religious text.
In 2010, when the human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield said he would like to the take the Bible of Vegetarian Cooking instead, Young said he had no choice, or "there would be letters". When the National Secular Society wrote to complain, it received a letter from Alice Feinstein, the programme's then editor. She wrote: "Castaways... are not forced to take a religious text – many choose not to take any religious book at all. Others do take one, but make the point that they would read it simply as a piece of literature."
The National Secular Society has called for the Bible to be dropped from the programme. Its president, Terry Sanderson, said: "One of the advantages of having your own desert island is that you can create the paradise of your choice. Some people would gladly choose not to live in a theocracy where the Bible is mandatory, and several guests recently have made that clear."
However, some atheists have no objection. When Sue Lawley asked Philip Pullman what book he would take, she added, "I suppose you don't want the Bible." He replied: "Oh yes, there are lots of good stories in the Bible."
A BBC spokesman said: "There are no plans to remove the Bible from the format of the programme." There are not thought to have been any discussions to drop the works of Shakespeare. Plomley's daughter, Almond, could not be reached for comment.