C. E. M Joad

C. E. M Joad books and biography

C. E. M. Joad

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Cyril Edwin Mitchinson Joad (August 12, 1891 – April 9, 1953) was an English philosopher and broadcasting personality. He is most famous for his appearance on the The Brains Trust, an extremely popular BBC Radio wartime discussion programme. He managed to popularise Philosophy and became a celebrity, before he lost fame and fortune in the Train Ticket Scandal of 1948.


Early life

Joad was born in Durham, the only son of Edwin and Mary Joad (ne Smith). In 1892 his father became an Inspector of Education and the family moved to Southampton, where he received a very strict Christian upbringing. Joad started school at the age of 5 in 1896, attending Lynam's Preparatory School (commonly called the Dragon School in Oxford. In 1902, he moved to Devon to study at Blundell's School.

Balliol College

In 1910, Joad went up to Balliol College, Oxford. It was here that he developed his skills as a Philosopher and debater. By 1912, he was a first class sportsman and Oxford Union debater. He also became a Syndicalist, a Guild Socialist and then a Fabian. In 1913, he heard about George Bernard Shaw through the newly founded magazine, the New Statesman. He developed a secure interest in Philosophy that acted as the building blocks for his career as a teacher and broadcaster. After completing his course at Balliol, achieving Double-First and John Locke Scholarship, Joad entered the Civil Service.

Civil Service

Joad entered the Board of Trade in 1914 after attending a Fabian Summer School. His aim was to infuse the Civil Service with a Socialist Ethos. In the months leading up to the First World War he displayed "ardent" pacifism and was a Conscientious Objector, which resulted in political controversy, along with George Bernard Shaw's book Common Sense about the War. Joad, Bernard Shaw, and Bertrand Russell became unpopular with many who were trying to encourage soldiers to fight for their country.


In May 1915, Joad married Mary White. They bought a home in Westhumble near Dorking in Surrey. The village was also home to Fanny Burney and near to the founder of the Fabian Society, Beatrice Webb. Joad was so fearful of conscription that he fled to Snowdonia, Wales until it was safe to return. Joad's marriage was thought to be happy until 1921, when they separated. They had three children.

Life after separation

After Joad's separation from his wife Mary, he moved to Hampstead in London with a student teacher named Marjorie Thomson. This was the first of many mistresses, all of which were introduced as 'Mrs Joad'. He described sexual desire as "a buzzing bluebottle that needed to be swatted promptly before it distracted a man of intellect from higher things." He believed that female minds lacked objectivity, and he had no interest in talking to women who would not go to bed with him. By now Joad was "short and rotund, with bright little eyes, round, rosy cheeks, and a stiff, bristly beard." He dressed in shabby clothing as a test: if people sneered at this they were too petty to merit acquaintance.

Job interviews proved a great difficulty for Joad. He was very flippant and was disapproved by many. However in 1930, he left the Civil Service to fill the post of Head of the Department of Philosophy and Psychology at Birkbeck College, University of London. Although the department was small, he made full use of his great teaching skills. He popularised philosophy with many, and many other great philosophers of the day were beginning to take him seriously. For those that didn't, Joad implied that they resented a blackleg who admitted outsiders to professional mysteries. With his two books, Guide to Modern Thought (1933) and Guide to Philosophy (1936) he became a well known figure in public society.


In his early life, Joad very much shared the desire for the destruction of the Capitalist system. Although he was expelled from the Fabian Society in 1925, because of sexual misbehaviour at its summer school he did not rejoin until 1943. In 1931, disenchanted with Labour in office, Joad became Director of Propaganda for the New Party. Due to the rise of Oswald Mosley and his Pro-Fascist sympathies, Joad resigned, along with John Strachey. Soon after he became bitterly opposed to Nazism, but he continued to refuse military service. Joad won a victory at the Oxford Union on the 9th February 1933, when the house agreed "under no circumstances to fight for King and Country," by 275 votes to 153. Joad gave his support to the many pacifist organizations.

Joad was also interested in the supernatural. He involved himself in psychical research, travelling to the Harz Mountains to recite spells in Latin in order to prove that the 'Blocksberg Tryst' did not turn a goat into a child. His crusades to preserve the English Countryside against industrial expoitation, ribbon development, overhead cables and destructive tourism. He wrote letters and articles in protest of the decisions being made to increase Britain's wealth and status, as he believed the short term status would bring long term problems. He organized rambles and rode recklessly through the countryside. He also had a passion for hunting.

Hating the idea of nothing to do, Joad organized on average nine lectures per week and two books per year. His popularity soared and he was invited to give many lectures and lead discussions. He also involved himself in sporting activities such as tennis and hockey, and recreational activities such as bridge, chess and playing the pianola. He was a great conversationalist and enjoyed entertaining the distinguished members of society. His home was modest, but his hospitality was lavish.

After the outbreak of the Second World War (1939) he became disgusted at the lack of liberty being shown. He went as far as to beg the Ministry of Information to make use of him. Sure enough, in January 1940, Joad was elected onto a wartime discussion programme called The Brains Trust. The BBC radio production was an immediate success, attracting millions of listeners.

The Brains Trust

Joad's fame was made on The Brains Trust. It was made of a small group that included Commander A B Campbell and Julian Huxley. Joad's developed and mature discussion techniques, his fund of anecdotes and mild humour brought him to the attention of the general public.

The programme came to deal with difficult questions posed by listeners, and the panellists would discuss the question in great detail, and give a philosophical opinion. Examples of the questions ranged from "What is the meaning of life?" to "How can a fly land upside-down on the ceiling?" Joad became star of the show, his voice being the most heard on radio except for the News. Joad nearly always opened with the catchphrase "It all depends on what you mean by…" when responding to a question. Although there was opposition from Conservatives who complained about the political bias, the general public generally considered him the greatest British philosopher of the day. He had won the position of celebrity.

Rise and fall

As Joad had become so well-known, he was invited to give after-dinner speeches, open bazaars and even advertise tea. He also sold more books than ever before. In a by-election shortly after the 1945 general election he stood as a Labour candidate for Combined Scottish Universities. Joad hid his anxiety, and his pacifism had not survived the war. He was now beginning to renounce his agnostic ways and turn to religion, which is evident in his book Recovery of Belief. Even Socialism was unsatisfying when he saw the vast evil the war had brought. His career was more successful than ever before, and he became a common subject of discussion in both public and private society. But he also had many enemies, and they were to have the last laugh.

In April 1948, Joad was convicted of travelling on a Waterloo-Exeter train without a valid ticket. Although he was a frequent fare dodger, he failed to give a satisfactory excuse. This made front-page headlines in the national newspapers, and the fine of 2 destroyed all hopes of a peerage and resulted in his dismissal from the BBC. The humiliation of this had a massive effect on his health, and he soon became bed-confined at his home in Hampstead. His fame and broadcasting career were over.


After the bed-confining thrombosis following his dismissal from the BBC in 1948, Joad developed cancer, and by 1952 he realised he was dying. He published the book Recovery of Belief in this year, perhaps as a deathbed repentance of his former atheism. Joad died on 9 April 1953 at his home, 4 East Heath Road, Hampstead. He was 61.


Joad was one of the most prominent British intellectuals of the 20th century. He was as famous as George Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell in his lifetime. He performed the difficult task of popularising philosophy, both in his books and by the spoken word, and helped to maintain the popularity of his specialist subject even after his death.

Quotes from Joad appear in Virginia Woolf's non-fiction piece, Three Guineas For example:

"If it is, then the sonner they give up the pretence of playing with public affairs and return to private life the better. If they can not make a job of the House of Commons, let them at least make something of their own houses. If they can not learn to save men from the destruction which incurable male mischievousness bids fair to bring upon them, let women at least learn to feed them, before they destroy themselves." [1])


  1. ^ Virginia Woolf Three Guineas p43.


Joad wrote over 75 books in his lifetime. The most famous can be found below.

  • Common Sense Ethics (1921)
  • Common Sense Theology (1922)
  • Guide to Modern Thought (1933)
  • Under the Fifth Rib re-titled The Book of Joad (1935) (1943)
  • Return to Philosophy (1935)
  • Guide to Philosophy (1936)
  • Guide to the Philosophy of Morals and Politics (1938)
  • Why War? (1939)
  • How to Write, Think and Speak Correctly (1939)
  • God and Evil (1943)
  • Teach Yourself Philosophy (1944)
  • The English Counties (1948)
  • The Recovery of Belief (1952)
  • Folly Farm (Posthumous 1954)

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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