plank out

The Crimson Permanent Assurance

The Crimson Permanent Assurance is a short film that plays at the start of the feature-length motion picture Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. Although presented as a separate film, and sometimes shown independently, it could also be regarded as a prologue to the longer film, which is almost never shown without The Crimson Permanent Assurance preceding it.

Having originally conceived the story as a 6 minute animated sequence in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, intended for placement at the end of Part V, 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 became "Our Short Feature Presentation", to be shown ahead of the "Main Feature".

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-1970's the short features were of poor quality, 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 The Life of Brian in Britain. This short presentation continued the idea.

The film includes actor Matt Frewer's debut performance.


The elderly British employees of the Permanent Assurance Company, a staid London assurance firm which has recently been taken over by the Very Big Corporation of America, rebel against their 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 and turn it into a pirate ship. Sailing through the City of London, they then proceed to attack The Very Big Corporation of America's skyscraper, using among other things wooden file cabinets which have been transformed into carronades. 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 accountant-cy" (as they sing in their heroic sea shanty), until unceremoniously meeting their (now-animated) end by falling off the edge of the world.

They reappear briefly in another sequence in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, where their 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 an attack by the supporting feature". Also, in what may be considered a "deleted scene" from the original short, the executives in the VBCA board room are shown discussing the meaning of life (and the fact that people are not wearing enough hats), right before the raid.

Behind the scenes

  • According to the new Monty Python's Meaning of Life DVD, this short immediately won the audience in the Cannes Film Festival.
  • Gilliam shot the film with a different cast and crew than the Meaning of Life main production (although at least four members of Monty Python can be seen in the short). Reportedly it went significantly over budget; almost double. Gilliam has defended himself by saying "nobody told me to stop". Initially planned as a five-minute sketch, it eventually expanded to half an hour. In the movie, it was edited down to 16 minutes.
  • At the beginning, the building used for shooting was the Lloyd's Register (of Shipping) No.71 office in Fenchurch Street, not to be confused with the Lloyd's of London Insurance Building.
  • The film's score was based on the works of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, mainly his work The Sea Hawk.
  • The names of the various subsidiaries of the Very Big Corporation Of America are displayed in the board room, as a seemingly endless list covering the walls; the list was in fact a repeating sequence. Some of the names contain puns, or intentional in-jokes referencing other events in The Meaning of Life (such as the Live Organ Transplants sketch, which cuts to a shot of the sign painter in the board room inscribing "Liver Donors Inc." on the wall). Some of the company names that can be seen on the list are:

The Very Big Corporation of America
Money Factor Printers Ltd.
Super Big Ltd.
Dawking's Mining Co.
Horace Mann and Yure Ltd.
Vast Holdings (Europe) Ltd.
Star Bright Merchandise Org.
Black and White Picture Co. Ltd.
D.Odgey Enterprises Ltd.
Consolidated Steel Co.
Acme Construction Company
Doneys (Florence)
Universal Amalgamations Ltd.
Rubber Goods Incorporated
The All Enveloping Co. Ltd.
Walker, Walker and Jones Bros.
Better Plastics Corps.
Space Propulsion Lab
Lange and Sons (International)
R. Devious Inc.
Phil Thevich Consortium
X. Tortion World Wide Ltd.
Mirage Land Co.
E. Normons and Sons
Micro Computer Inc.
Payne, Bickers and Dogood Ltd.
World Wide Wine Corp.
A. Maze and Lee Huge
Dickinson Kincain Association
D. Crepid Holdings
Interstellar Travel Corp.
Cooper's (Purveyors)
Wakefeld and Daughter
Fastness and Vast Co. Ltd
Cartwright Tutorials
Arctic Geo. Lab. Co.
R. J. McArthur Parks Ltd.
Stn. Pendons Ltd.
V. Rich and Son
Liver Donors Inc.
Moonscape Products Ltd.
Data Travel and Experiments
O. Verpaid Associates Ltd.

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