Former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson
Former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson

OPINION: don't pity Clarkson, but he raises a good point

AS Grace Dent pointed out yesterday, big boys do cry, and we should try to be understanding when they do.

I know that, for a lot of people, Jeremy Clarkson doesn't cut a terribly sympathetic character and, amid all the whining of engines and the crunching of gears, we wouldn't ordinarily look to him for some sensitive perceptions about the human condition.

But, in breaking his silence about life after Top Gear, Clarkson delivered a rather moving treatise on life as an unemployed 55-year-old man.

At this point, of course we have to recognise that Clarkson is not your typical mid-50s bloke who's just lost his job. He effectively has a trampoline stuffed with 50 quid notes to cushion his fall.

And there's his celebrity friends, his millions of non-celebrity fans and the fact that he has a rare talent which is much in demand.

He is not asking for our sympathy, and neither will he get it. Nevertheless he draws attention to a wider, more profound issue that, sadly, isn't often a discussion topic.

"At 55, you're in a limbo land where time is simultaneously with you and against you," he wrote. "You are too young to put your feet up, but too old to start anything new." He talks of a problem that is afflicting men between the ages of 45 and 60 working in industries where there is no premium on experience and a ready stream of eager young entrants.

Clarkson talks of having a second career, or rather, having lost his "baby", he says he's going to make another. This, one assumes, will probably be another vehicle (forgive the pun) for his televisual talent.

I think we can be certain he's not thinking of retraining as a psychotherapist, or a vet, or - heaven forbid - a social worker, even though he says that his jobless status has given him a new empathy for people on benefits.

But the terrible reality that affects many thousands of workers is that, in their fifties and surplus to requirements, they are faced with having to find a completely new way of earning a living in a world of work where the demand is for the young, the flexible, the low(er) paid and the digital savvy.

This time of life is often accompanied by a significant trauma - it's at the age when a parent might die, or a marriage might dissolve (incidentally, Clarkson suffered both these catastrophes recently) - and this has the inevitable effect on mental health.

For the first time ever, the group with the highest suicide rate of all was men between the ages of 45 to 59. In 2013, the last recorded year, there were 6,233 suicides in the UK and, of those, 78 per cent were men.

Three decades earlier, about twice as many men as women took their own lives: now it's four times as many, and that middle-aged group has seen the biggest rise.

Clarkson's downfall was about him and him alone. And he has a platform to express his angst.

But he raises issues that would strike a chord with many men, who are neither able nor inclined to share their pain. They're the ones who need help and understanding.