C.E.M. Joad

(12 August 1891 – 9 April 1953)

C.E.M. Joad

C.E.M. Joad

Cyril Edwin Mitchinson Joad was an English philosopher and broadcasting personality.

Joad was born in Durham and shortly after he moved with his family to Southampton, where he received a very strict Christian upbringing. In 1910, Joad went up to Balliol College, Oxford where he developed his skills as a philosopher and debater.

After completing his course at Balliol he entered the Civil Service in the Department for Board of Trade in 1914, which later became the Ministry of Labour. In the months leading up to the First World War, like Bertrand Russell and others, he displayed “ardent” pacifism, which resulted in political controversy.

Personal life

Joad was married to Mary White between 1915 and 1921 in which time they had three children. They lived  in Westhumble near Dorking in Surrey although Joad fled conscription to Snowdonia, Wales until it was safe to return. After their separation Joad moved to Hampstead in London with a student teacher named Marjorie Thomson, the  first of many mistresses. Joad believed that female minds lacked objectivity, and he had no interest in talking to women who would not go to bed with him.

Popularising philosophy

In 1930, Joad left the Civil Service to fill the post of Head of the Department of Philosophy and Psychology at Birkbeck College, University of London where he popularised philosophy with many, and many other great philosophers of the day were beginning to take him seriously. 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. He was expelled from the Fabian Society in 1925, because of sexual misbehaviour at its summer school and did not rejoin until 1943.

In 1931, disenchanted with Labour in office, Joad became Director of Propaganda for the New Party. Owing to the rise of Oswald Mosley’s Pro-Fascist sympathies, Joad resigned and soon after he became bitterly opposed to Nazism, but continued to be  a pacifist and refuse military service.

The Brains Trust

In January 1940, Joad was elected onto a wartime discussion programme called The Brains Trust which featured a small group that included Commander A B Campbell and Julian Huxley. The programme came to deal with difficult questions posed by listeners, and the panellists would discuss the question in great detail, and render a philosophical opinion. Joad became star of the show and the general public generally considered him the greatest British philosopher of the day. His catchphrase was “It all depends on what you mean by…” with was how he always began his answers.

In April 1948, Joad was convicted of travelling on a Waterloo-Exeter train without a valid ticket. It turned out that he had a long-standing obsession about trying to defraud the railways. The conviction made front-page headlines in the national newspapers, and the fine of £2 (£54 as of 2010) destroyed all hopes of a peerage and resulted in his dismissal from the BBC. The humiliation of this had a severe effect on his health, and he soon became bed-confined at his home in Hampstead.


Joad was also interested in the supernatural and partnered Harry Price on a number of ghost-hunting expeditions, also joining the Ghost Club of which Price was the president. However he spent much of his life as an agnostic.

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 The Recovery of Belief in this year, which described his return to Christianity. Joad died on 9 April 1953 at his home, 4 East Heath Road, Hampstead. He was 61. He is buried at Saint John’s-at-Hampstead Church in London.

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