The Crimson Permanent Assurance

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The Crimson Permanent Assurance
Directed byTerry Gilliam
Written byTerry Gilliam
Produced byTerry Gilliam
John Goldstone
StarringSydney Arnold
Guy Bertrand
Andrew Bicknell
John Scott Martin
Leslie Sarony
CinematographyRoger Pratt
Edited byJulian Doyle
Music byJohn Du Prez
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release dates
  • 31 March 1983 (1983-03-31) (United States)
  • 23 June 1983 (1983-06-23) (United Kingdom)
Running time
16 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Crimson Permanent Assurance is a 1983 British swashbuckling comedy short film that plays as the beginning of the feature-length motion picture Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.[2]

Having originally conceived the story as a six-minute animated sequence in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life,[3] intended for placement at the end of Part V,[4] Terry Gilliam convinced the other members of Monty Python to allow him to produce and direct it as a live action piece instead. According to Gilliam, the film's rhythm, length, and style of cinematography made it a poor fit as a scene in the larger movie, so it was presented as a supplementary short ahead of the film.

It was a common practice in British cinemas to show an unrelated short feature before the main movie, a holdover from the older practice of showing a full-length "B" movie ahead of the main feature. By the mid-1970s the short features were of poorer quality (often Public Information Films), or simply banal travelogues. As a kind of protest, the Pythons had already produced one spoof travelogue narrated by John Cleese, Away from It All, which was shown before Life of Brian in Britain.

The film includes actor Matt Frewer's debut performance.


The elderly British employees of the Permanent Assurance Company, a staid London firm which has recently been taken over by the Very Big Corporation of America, rebel against their much younger corporate masters when one of them is sacked. Having locked the surviving supervisors in the safe, and forced their boss to walk a makeshift plank out a window, they commandeer their Edwardian office building, which suddenly weighs anchor, uses its scaffolding and tarpaulins as sails, and is turned into a pirate ship. The stone office building starts to move as if it were a ship. Sailing through the City of London, they then proceed to attack The Very Big Corporation of America's (VBCA) skyscraper, using, among other things, wooden filing cabinets which have been transformed into carronades and swords fashioned from the blades of a ceiling fan. On ropes, they swing into the board room and engage the executives of VBCA in hand-to-hand combat, vanquishing them.

After their hard-earned victory, the clerks continue to "sail the wide accountan-sea" (as they sing in their heroic sea shanty). Sailing into history as they continue on to further conquests.

However, they unceremoniously end up falling off the edge of the world, due to their belief about the shape of the world being "disastrously wrong".

Typical of how the Pythons would weave previously 'terminated' plot lines into later scenes of the same episode (like Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition in the TV show, or the recurring theme of the swallows carrying coconuts in the movie Holy Grail), The Crimson Permanent Assurance suddenly re-emerges in the middle of the main feature of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (this time with both Eric Idle and Michael Palin added as members of the VBCA). After the donor scene, the movie shifts to follow a modern board room debate about the meaning of life (and that people are not wearing enough hats). This debate is happening at the Very Big Corporation of America headquarters building in the same room that witnessed the battle in the short film. The debate is halted when one executive asks, "Has anyone noticed that building there before?" which turns out to be the marauding old London building/pirate ship of the Crimson Permanent Assurance. The audience gets to briefly see the attack of the pirates from the angle of the victims in the board room. The raid is halted by a modern skyscraper falling onto the moving Permanent Assurance Company building; with a voice-over apologizing for the temporary interruption due to the "unwarranted attack by the supporting feature".



Very Big Corporation of America

In popular culture[edit]

The Crimson Permanent Assurance plays a prominent role in Charles Stross's 2013 novel Neptune's Brood, where the CPA is an interstellar insurance company that sponsors space pirates who double as cargo auditors. The CPA also features in the novel's twist ending.[5][6]


  1. ^ McCall, Douglas (2013-11-12). Monty Python: A Chronology, 1969-2012, 2nd ed. p. 97. McFarland. ISBN 9780786478118.
  2. ^ Hunter, I. Q. (1999). British Science Fiction Cinema. Routledge. p. 153. ISBN 0-415-16868-6.
  3. ^ Hunter, I. Q.; Porter, Laraine (2012). British Comedy Cinema. Routledge. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-415-66667-1.
  4. ^ McCabe, Bob (1999). Dark Knights and Holy Fools: The Art and Films of Terry Gilliam: From Before Python to Beyond Fear and Loathing. Universe. p. 106. ISBN 0-7893-0265-9.
  5. ^ "The Crimson Permanent Assurance in Space", blog post by Charles Stross, 30 September 2010
  6. ^ Stross, Neptune's Brood (2013), ISBN 0-425-25677-4

External links[edit]