John Cleese: Why I love having insurance

Why I love having insurance: by John Cleese, published Sept. 26, 2012 in the Vancouver Province

By John Cleese, The Province September 26, 2012

My Dad Was an Insurance Salesman.

He started in Bristol when he left school at 15 and then, after fighting in the First World War, sold marine insurance in Bombay, Hong Kong and Canton, until he returned to Somerset in 1924 to work for a big company called Guardian Assurance.

Every year, he sold more life insurance than anyone else in the company. The reason for his success?

He was a kind and decent man and all the solicitors and bank managers in Somerset liked and trusted him.

So if one of their clients needed insurance, they’d say: “Oh, give old Reg Cleese a call. He won’t try to sell you too much.”

As a result, I grew up with the unquestioning belief that insurance was a “good thing,” and this was long before I realized how unpredictable life was.

Robin Skynner, the psychiatrist, once said to me: “People always think things are going to go according to plan, despite their lifelong experience that they never do.”

One business guru advises us to “expect the unexpected,” thus proving himself a complete prat since the moment you expect the unexpected, it ceases to be unexpected.

It is now expected, and so becomes exactly what you are expecting.

On the contrary, the frustrating thing about the unexpected is that, there you are going along, expecting the expected, and things are happening just as you expected, and then, just when you least expect it, it happens.

It’s an alarming thought and the only way to sleep at night is to get insurance. Or so I’ve always believed.

Take last January for example. My lovely then-girlfriend-now-wife and I were on holiday for a week. And at that moment, all that mattered was that we had a week together.

We arrived in our room and there in an ice bucket was a bottle of champagne. We settled on the sofa, I took the bottle, removed the foil and gently unscrewed the wire securing the cork.

As I put the wine on the table and turned to the bottle to ease the cork free, it shot out of the bottle at the speed of light and right into my eye. There was blood everywhere, because as it turns out, my eyebrow had been cut by the wire in the cork.

Thank God, it hit my eyebrow, not my eyeball.

Never before had I seen a cork shoot out of an ice-cold, completely unshaken bottle of champagne without a little help from my thumbs. There was no way of anticipating what happened.

But, I had a broad-ranging, personal-injury-while-travelling-abroad policy with no champagne-cork exclusion.

So if the cork had struck an inch lower, at least I could have had my eye mounted properly.

And so, I love insurance! Especially if I am traveling in the United States of America, where becoming a doc-tor is a quicker way to inconceivable wealth than starting a hedge fund.

Tom Lehrer, the U.S. satirical song-writer and mathematician, once told of a friend who entered medical school to study “diseases of the rich.”

My experience of American doctors came early, in 1965. I was touring in a musical called “Half a Six-pence” with Tommy Steele. I woke up one Sunday at 5 a.m. with a terrible, agonizing toothache.

Some-how, I found a dentist in Boston who was prepared to see me. I shook his hand, sank into the dental chair with a cry of relief and pointed to the offending molar.

He examined it and embarked on an exploration of the rest of my dentition, making many disparaging noises as he completed the tour. He later explained that X-rays were going to be necessary.

I agreed, they were taken, and after a prolonged period of study, he outlined a course of treatment involving crowns, bridges, root canals and so on. Finally, he shook my hand and informed me we could start at 10 o’clock on Tuesday morning.

Incidentally, it is not widely known, but several of the most notorious pirates who operated in the Caribbean had excellent American medical qualifications.

For this reason, if you are traveling abroad, and especially if you are visiting the U.S., you should take out appropriate medical insurance.

A final thought: I wish insurance companies would offer a policy that would cover me in the event of my forgetting to take out a policy. That would bring real peace of mind.

John Cleese is an English actor, comedian, writer and film producer known for his work with the comedy troupe Monty Python and the British sitcom Fawlty Towers. In B.C., he can be heard on the radio in ads for Pacific Blue Cross, B.C.’s largest provider of health, dental and travel benefits. He wrote this as part of that campaign.
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