“The Joadian Way” – The Bell Magazine – Spring 2016



“The Joadian Way”

CEM Joad, after whom The Joadian Way is named, was a 20th century philosopher and intellectual who frequently visited West Sussex. Clare Toole-Mackson finds out more about him and the eponymous walk.

ALTHOUGH I am an enthusiastic and reasonably knowledgeable Sussex rambler, The Joadian Way rang no bells. The South Downs Way, The Monarch’s Way – yes, but this – no. I discovered it to be an approximately 5 mile circular walk between the hamlet of South Stoke, just north of Arundel, and Amberley station, through delightful riverside and Downland scenery.

But who was this Joad, who gave the trail its name? He was a colourful and controversial intellectual figure of the 1940’s. More mature readers may remember ‘The Brains Trust, a ground-breaking BBC radio programme which began on January 1, 1941, in an attempt to improve morale in wartime Britain. Its panel, which included Julian Huxley, answered questions, frequently of a philosophical nature, sent in by listeners. C.E.M. Joad, ‘The Professor’ as he was affectionately known, was one of the original panel members. The Brains Trust became so popular that at its height the audience figures exceeded those of ‘ITMA’, the well-loved wartime comedy programme. Through the medium of the programme Joad popularised philosophy, believing that it should not be merely an academic discipline but a power in everyday life. He endeared himself to his listeners by his business-like and unpedantic style of speaking and by his fund of anecdotes and mild humour. His answers invariably began with the catchphrase “It all depends on what you mean by…” and he rapidly became a celebrity figure, as well-known in his time as George Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell.

A welcome escape from the pressures of life in London was provided by Joad’s regular stays at South Stoke farmhouse and at Meadow Hills, near Stedham.

He walked and grew to love the Sussex landscape and campaigned passionately to preserve the English countryside against industrial exploitation and ribbon development – an environmentalist ahead of his time. A month after his death he was quoted in The Observer in ‘Sayings Of Our Times’ – “It will be said of this generation that it found England a land of beauty and left it a land of beauty spots”. In another local connection, Joad was a regular visitor to ‘Humphrey’s’ at Greatham, the country home of the hugely hospitable Meynell family – he even played for their family cricket team.

A brief outline of Joad’s life : he was born in Durham in 1891 and had a very strict Christian upbringing. He excelled at school and Oxford University where he joined the Fabian Society, a group of socialists whose aim was to establish a democratic socialist state in Britain. His commitment to socialism was, not surprisingly, accompanied by strong pacifism and agnosticism. It was he who proposed – and won – the motion for the famous 1933 Oxford Union debate – “That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and country”. He did however renounce his pacifism in 1940 on realising the full horror of Nazism. After University he became a Civil Servant, hoping to infuse the Service with the socialist ethos. Sixteen years later he retired and was appointed Head of the Department of Philosophy and Psychology at Birkbeck College, University of London, a post he held for 23 years. (ie from 1930 until his death in 1953 – Ed)

An amazingly prolific author, Joad wrote, introduced or edited over 100 books, pamphlets, articles and essays. Much of his writing was done during his rural seclusion at South Stoke and Stedham. As a philosopher he cannot be said to have developed an original system of thought but dedicated his books to exploring and understanding the ideas of others, as well as arguing his own, sometimes unpopular, views and opinions on subjects such as religion, politics and warfare.

[National Gallery portrait of C.E.M. Joad]

He was the author of ‘Teach Yourself Philosophy’ in that well-known and popular series of instruction manuals.

It has probably become evident that C.E.M. Joad was a multi-faceted and complex personality and inevitably there was a dark side. He did marry in 1915 and had three children but separated from his wife 6 years later. His attitude to women strikes us today as particularly perverse and unacceptable. He believed that female minds lacked objectivity and had no interest in talking to women who would not go to bed with him. He was in fact expelled from a Fabian Society summer school because of sexual misconduct!

An extraordinary and, as it proved, fatal flaw was Joad’s boast “I cheat the railway company whenever I can”. He was eventually caught travelling without a valid ticket, convicted and fined. This public humiliation had a severe effect on him and dramatically altered the course of his life. Because of his celebrity the incident made front page headlines. He was dismissed from the BBC and all his hopes for a peerage vanished.

His health deteriorated rapidly and he died of cancer in 1953, aged 61, incidentally renouncing during his illness his agnostic ways and returning to the Christianity of the Church of England.

In spite of the scandal of his latter days, C.E.M. Joad should be remembered because he made philosophy intelligible and entertainingly accessible, teaching millions of wartime BBC ‘students’ to courageously think, write and speak for themselves when confronted by abuse and misuse of power. Known familiarly as ‘The Professor’ he was never actually accorded that honour – perhaps because of a certain amount of jealousy on the part of the academic elite. He was also instrumental in causing Stephen Potter to write his book ‘Gamesmanship’ (subtitle ‘The Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating’!); the idea arising during a doubles tennis match. Without the foundations laid by the Brains Trust in 1940 there might not exist today such cradles of lively debate as Question Time and Any Questions.

Richard Symonds, a Founder Member of the Joad Society in West Sussex, has worked hard to re-establish C.E.M. Joad’s name and reputation in the public eye. In April 2003 he was instrumental in organising the South Stoke Festival of Thought to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Joad’s death and in 2013 at Stedham an Exhibition of Philosophy and a Brains Trust evening. I understand that plans are already in hand for the 70th anniversary in 2023. Arundel Museum has a significant Joad archive.

Many thanks to Richard Symonds and to Arundel Museum for information on which this article is based. For details of the Joadian Way, click on the link



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