DOWN MEMORY LANE Sussex’s all-but forgotten philosopher

It’s easy to make a list – from Belloc to Kipling, from Blake to Galsworthy – of great writers with Sussex associations.

One of the more interesting, however, has sadly fallen from popular memory – an omission Richard Symonds is determined to make good.

Richard, of The Joad Society, makes a compelling case for writer and philosopher CEM Joad to be given his due place in our literary history.

“Cyril Joad (1891-1953) is not someone we should forget in this county,” Richard argues. “He wrote most of his 100-plus books from his ‘retreat’ at South Stoke Farm on the Arundel estate, until the end of the war (eg Teach Yourself Philosophy, 1944).

“Then, in 1946 until his death of cancer aged 61, he lived at Stedham, West Sussex – from where he wrote his swansong, The Recovery of Belief – A Restatement of Christian Philosophy (Faber & Faber, 1952).

“As Cyril Joad’s 60th anniversary approaches, I grow in the conviction that if he had not died when he did, in 1953, a critically-important Moral Realist movement would have developed, to rival that of the prevailing Moral Relativists of his time, and today.”

Cyril Joad worshipped at Stedham church and, as Richard says, the image of Joad and TS Eliot – often the only communicants – is not the least curious of church history’s vignettes.

Joad should be remembered as someone who felt that philosophy should not be a mere academic speciality, but a power in everyday life. Joad set up London’s Birkbeck’s philosophy department in 1930, and ran it for 23 years, but he was never made a professor.

Joad was, however, The Professor in the BBC’s Brains Trust one of the most popular wartime radio programmes in this country, a forerunner of Any Questions? and Question Time today.

“These days, if Cyril Joad is remembered at all, he is remembered more for a media-hyped train ticket ‘scandal’ in 1948, which all but destroyed his reputation as a well-known academic and broadcasting celebrity.

“In April 1948, Joad was convicted of travelling on a Waterloo-Exeter train without a valid ticket. His fall from grace was extremely rapid – sacked by the BBC, the title ‘Sir Cyril’ lost, and then diagnosed with cancer. But CEMJ’s best work as a writer was produced late in life, here in West Sussex. I believe a greater understanding of the work of Cyril Joad – and Moral Realism – may well be a critical pre-condition for humanity’s survival in the 21st century. We need him well-remembered.”

Joad has also been neglected because of his politics (Fabian Socialism) as well as his philosophy (Christian Moral Realism), Richard believes.

“Neither chimed with the times (eg The Cold War) and still don’t.

“But as a writer (100-plus books on philosophy), teacher (Birkbeck London for 23 years) and broadcaster (Wartime Brains Trust), CEM Joad popularised philosophy for millions, and ‘quickened the sluggish mind of the nation’ (London Evening Standard, 1953). Cyril Joad was to philosophy what Patrick Moore is to astronomy – a kind of Patrick Moore of philosophy.”

Sadly, his annus horribilis in 1948 did for him: “CEMJ was a very gifted, but very fallible, human being. His private life and personal relationships were turbulent, and celebrity hubris ended with a nemesis in 1948.

“In that year, his popularity and reputation were destroyed by Winston Churchill in Gathering Storm; by the media in a hyped train ticket scandal, and by the cruel humiliations of Bertrand Russell, and his professional disciples.

“Joad was sacked from the BBC, the public tired of him, and the chances of a knighthood from Clement Attlee, or a professorship at Birkbeck, were lost. He would have loved the title ‘Sir Cyril’.”