A DISCREET sniffle, an emotional sob, or an out-and-out wail while pummelling the floor...

Just when is it OK for a man to cry?

Of course, it’s thanks to Ed Balls who has given us a brief window in which to talk about this taboo suject.

The shadow chancellor recently admitted that he is reduced to tears by, of all things, the Antiques Roadshow.

He told Total Politics magazine: “I cry at the Antiques Roadshow. When someone comes in with a family heirloom and it’s often the last bit of the programme and the expert says, ‘Do you know how much this is worth? It’s valued at thousands of pounds’.

“And they say, ‘I’m amazed it’s worth that much, but it means more to me than money.’ Incredibly emotional.”

Another time the subject was broached was when footballer Paul Gascoigne (currently living in Bournemouth while he receives treatment for drug and alcohol addiction) openly wept at Italia ’90. But apart from that, it’s hard to think of many times when a man in the public eye became emotional. That’s how rare the phenomenon is.

OK, the X-Factor’s Louis Walsh may wipe away the odd tear after a moving performance from a contestant, and sports people are known to become a bit teary sometimes, but in general, men are better known as the less emotional sex.

Obviously it’s not wrong for men to get emotional. And men have always cried. Yet its acceptability has varied across time and culture.

In Homer’s The Iliad, Odysseus’s heroic qualities weren’t marred by his many episodes of weeping for home, loved ones and fallen comrades.

European epics such as Beowulf are choc full of male blubbing and the Bible is riddled with references to crying. Indeed, its shortest verse is: “Jesus wept.”

Up through the Romantic era, tears were seen as proof of a man’s sincerity, honesty and integrity, while the Enlightenment saw the more rational ideal of manhood. Men who cried came to be regarded as sometimes manipulative and false.

During the Victorian era, tears were thought of as having a vulnerable and submissive quality to them, and more befitting a woman than a man.

As the 20th century dawned, the ideal of the tearless male dawned with it.

Many chaps today were taught by their fathers that crying was a sign of weakness, and that men should be “strong”.

And here in Britain, where the notion of having a stiff upper lip was invented, the emotional drama is often kept to a minimum.

Yet it seems among menfolk today there are definite times when it’s OK to cry, and times when it isn’t.

So, it’s acceptable for a man to cry in front of others on these occasions:

1. When you’ve lost a loved one;

2. When a beloved pet has died;

3. When you propose to the love of your life and they say yes;

4. On your wedding day (but only briefly);

5. When you cradle your newborn son or daughter;

6. You’ve been struck in the testicles (but you have to do it soundlessly);

7. Visiting sites that pay tribute to those who laid down their lives for others;

8. As an athlete, after the final game/match/event you will ever play in;

9. While watching certain movies.

Tears are not acceptable when:

1. Out of self-pity;

2. When your favourite sports team loses;

3. When your favourite sports team wins;

4. When you don’t get your way;

5. When you have to be strong for others;

6. When you have a job to do;

7. When you’re frustrated;

8. While watching certain movies.

20 films that make men cry

1. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

2. Shawshank Redemption

3. Field of Dreams

4. The Champ

5. Braveheart

6. Up

7. Chariots of Fire

8. Man on Fire

9. Iron Giant

10. Life is Beautiful

11. Glory

12. It’s a Wonderful Life

13. Rudy

14. Toy Story 3

15. Dead Poets’ Society

16. Friday Night Lights

17. Gladiator

18. Saving Private Ryan

19. We Were Soldiers

20. The Green Mile