Hitchens at Christmas: His Explosive Holiday Arguments with Henry Fairlie

A wartime lexicon.
Dec. 16 2011 3:15 PM

Goodbye, Comrade

Every Christmas, Hitchens would come to my house and argue ferociously with Henry Fairlie.

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The late Christopher Hitchens

Photograph by Amanda Edwards.

See Slate’s full tribute to the life of Christopher Hitchens. Read Slate’s complete collection of Christopher Hitchens' columns.

Christopher covered the bloodless Portuguese revolution in April 1974, that brought down the 20th century's oldest fascist regime. He arrived at the Tivoli Hotel in Lisbon ahead of most of us, as usual. (I was then working for Harry Evans' Sunday Times.) As I got out of a taxi, he was standing on the hotel steps. He was wearing a white suit, well, it might not have been a suit, but it was white, and he was puffing on a cigarette. From the top of the steps, he called out, "Hello, comrade. This is a real revo."

The festivities continued when we found ourselves in Washington in the ’80s. Christopher came each year for Christmas lunch with his first wife, Eleni, and their two children. Henry Fairlie, the British writer who worked for the New Republic, was also a regular guest. As the beverages flowed, Henry, a generation older, would roll a political hand grenade down the table, aimed at Christopher. The explosive forces then released inevitably found their way into print, in some fashion or another. On one such occasion, when the topic was the Spanish Civil War, Christopher claimed Henry had written this or that unacceptable thing about the Republican side in front of witnesses, prompting my wife, Eleanor Randolph, who is Southern, to admonish Christopher, saying Christmas lunch was "off the record." The Fairlie-Hitchens confrontations, vicious though they were to behold, never lasted long, and at Henry's 60th birthday, Christopher gave a stunning recitation of limericks that lasted 45 minutes. Eleanor immediately forgave him everything, well, almost everything. Goodbye, comrade, and thanks for those moments.

See Slate’s full tribute to the life of Christopher Hitchens. Read Slate’s complete collection of Christopher Hitchens' columns.

Peter Pringle is a British journalist and author. A foreign correspondent for 30 years, he lives in New York City.