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.
During his years at Birkbeck College, Joad was intimately involved in the most famous debate in the history of the Oxford Union Society, a society in which he had participated during his undergraduate years. Devised by David Graham and debated on Thursday, February 9, 1933, was this question: “That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country.” The topic illustrates both the attitude of Oxford and the state of Europe, as the Second World War approached. Adolf Hitler had become chancellor of Germany just ten days prior to the debate. After five speakers, including Joad as the principal and last speaker, the motion passed by a vote of 275 to 153. Joad’s speech was described as “well-organized and well-received,” probably the single most important reason for the outcome of the debate.
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. He crusaded 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 (the player piano). 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.
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.
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. He stood as a Labour candidate at a by-election in November 1946 for the Combined Scottish Universities constituency (although he lost). Joad hid his anxiety, and his pacifism had not survived the war. He was now beginning to renounce his agnostic ways and turn to the Christianity, the Church of England, which is evident in his book The 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.
Joad once boasted in print that “I cheat the railway company whenever I can.” 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 The 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. He is buried at Saint John’s-at-Hampstead Church in London.
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:
His leading role in the most famous debate of the Oxford Union Society has also helped to establish his legacy, which helped to make him a reputation as an absolute pacifist, a position which the Nazi menace of World War Two caused him to set aside.
Joad was invited to appear at the Socratic Club, an undergraduate society at Oxford University, where he spoke on January 24, 1944, on the subject, of "On Being Reviewed by Christians," an event attended by more than 250 students. This was a stepping stone in Joad's life, particularly at a time when he was reexamining his convictions. This reexamination eventually led to his return to the Christian faith of his youth, an event that he mentioned in his book, The Recovery of Belief, which was published in 1952. C. S. Lewis, President of the Socratic Club, is mentioned twice in this book, once as an influence on Joad through Lewis's book The Abolition of Man. Part of his legacy, then, was to return to the faith that he had set aside as an Oxford undergraduate and to defend that faith in his writings.