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The Crimson Permanent Assurance

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The Crimson Permanent Assurance
Opening titles
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 directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Sydney Arnold and Guy Bertrand.[2] It plays as the prelude to the film Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983).

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 (VBCA), 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. Leaving the City of London, they sail to another financial centre and then proceed to attack the VBCA's 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 sing a heroic sea shanty as they "sail the wide accountan-sea" in search of 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".

Typically of how the Pythons would weave previously "terminated" plot lines into later scenes in their projects (such as "The Spanish Inquisition" in Flying Circus, or the repeated references to swallows in Holy Grail), The Crimson Permanent Assurance suddenly re-emerges in the middle of The Meaning of Life. After the donor scene, the film shifts to a modern boardroom in the VBCA headquarters, where the executives debate about the meaning of life (and whether or not people are wearing enough hats). The debate is halted when one executive asks "Has anyone noticed that building there before?", which turns out to be the office building/pirate ship of the Crimson Permanent Assurance. As the beginning of the battle between the clerks and the VBCA is repeated, the raid is suddenly halted by a falling skyscraper crushing the Permanent Assurance Company building, accompanied by a voice-over apologizing for the "unwarranted attack by the supporting feature".



Very Big Corporation of America


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[citation needed], 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 travelogues. The Pythons had already produced one spoof travelogue narrated by John Cleese, Away from It All, which was shown before Life of Brian (1979) in Britain.

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]

The "Accountancy Shanty" is sung by Neil and Hershel, two Bob replicant clones in the book All These Worlds, the third book in the Bobiverse series.[citation needed]


  1. ^ McCall, Douglas (2013-11-12). Monty Python: A Chronology, 1969-2012, 2nd ed. p. 97. McFarland. ISBN 9780786478118.
  2. ^ "The Crimson Permanent Assurance". British Film Institute Collections Search. Retrieved 11 January 2024.
  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]