COHEN: Christopher Hitchens, welcome to the Drexel interview.
HITCHENS: Thanks for having me.
COHEN: I say Christopher...
HITCHENS: Yes, please.
COHEN: ...because I know that you prefer to be called Christopher and not Chris and you mention in the memoir the fact that early in your career at Oxford the Marxists with whom you were involved called you Chris and the tutors and the more elite faculty at Oxford called you Christopher and I wonder if your preference doesn't suggest an underlying political loyalty from the very beginning.
HITCHENS: The loyalty, alas, is less complicated than that: it was to my mother and to her social aspirations. She called me Christopher because she thought it was a nice name. She thought to shorten it to Chris—to circumcise it or amputate it—was a crime and especially since my second name begins with H, and in England everything depends on the aspirate, and people who drop them are crude, the next thing that happens if you are called Chris and your name is Hitchens is Chris Hitchens and that she would have thought would be unforgivably lower class.
COHEN: Your upbringing was middle class—lower middle class would you say? I don't know if those [indecipherable].
HITCHENS: Ah, well no one in England puts themselves in the lower, lower middle class; they always want to saw lower or maybe upper-middle, or just middle. My father's family was quite working class. They came from a tough district in the Portsmouth dockyards where my grandfather rose to be a school teacher in a rather hard school. My father got out of it by moving into the navy, going off to sea. He wouldn't have sounded like me at all, they wouldn't have spoken like this and my mother's family came from a Jewish background in Liverpool (again, by no means the forcing house of the British bourgeoisie) and both of them had sort of social aspirations, my mother particularly. And these were projected—is the word, I suppose—onto your humble servant because I was the first-born and the proof that you've moved into the middle class proper in England is very simple: at least the first-born son has to go to a private school...
HITCHENS: ...and then to a university...
COHEN: Ok, I wanna...
HITCHENS: ...which no one in my family had done before. So, I was always acutely aware of the tiniest social nuances. George Orwell says about the English that they're all branded on the tongue from the moment they're born. It still is amazingly true.
COHEN: So the accent.
HITCHENS: The accent and the avoidance of certain commonplace expressions as well.
HITCHENS: And above all holding on to the H's.