This is the third of five pieces reviewing the Best Interview nominees for this year's Sony Awards, the winner of which will be announced in London on 9 May. The writer is running the BBC College of Journalism's Art of the Interview season.

Listening to John Humphrys' interview with Julian Assange is like watching a snake and a mongoose eyeing each other up, or at least how I imagine that kind of encounter might go. Two well-matched intellects circling each other, each trying to land a blow, aware that failure might bring sudden death.

OK, not quite sudden death - but the stakes were pretty high. 

Assange had just been released on bail; was trying to avoid extradition. He was also facing two allegations of serious sexual assault. There were demands in the US that he be charged with treason. Humphrys had the first (post-bail) face-to-face interview with the most fascinating journalistic prize of the year; about a subject that was conceptually and legally fraught.

It took place just when the audience was trying to make up its mind about Assange. He'd emerged as a bit of a Robin Hood figure, crusading for truth and justice, yet arguably he was dangerous. So was he a hero who had changed the world, or a 'hi-tech terrorist'?

When allegations of serious sexual assault were first raised, many people assumed they were politically motivated.

But when the Guardian published the full details of the case against Assange on 18 December - through 'unauthorised access' to 'police material' - public opinion began to change.

This interview was on 21 December and could not have been more timely or high profile.

In the 25-minute conversation, recorded at the mansion in East Anglia where Assange was living, Humphrys (left) showed why he is held by many to be the best in the business. 'Forensic' is the word most often used to describe his interview style, and that's exactly what this was.

He takes us, without a wasted word or the slightest hesitation or deviation, through the case against Assange.

Why wouldn't he go back to Sweden? Couldn't he see the irony that he, the Wikileaks man, was complaining of leaks about his personal life? Did he have sex with those women? Was he a sexual predator?

He asks him what Wikileaks had achieved, and puts his finger on the fulcrum of the debate: "You do see the difference between transparency, which may or may not be desirable, and accountability, which is always desirable?"

In the process, he revealed a man with a monstrous ego. 

Humphrys: "Do you see yourself as some sort of messianic figure?" 

Assange: "Everyone would like to be a messianic figure without dying." 

And a man who has a very particular view of women, judging by a couple of his comments:

How many women have you slept with? "A gentleman certainly doesn't count."

And "Women have been generous to me over many years."

You either love Humphreys or you hate him. Those who are not fans complain he's bad tempered and hectoring. There was absolutely no aggression here.

Going back to the snake, it was quite cold-blooded. There was no warmth either. It was incisive and revealing ...and quite brilliant.

Bridget Osborne is a BBC radio and television producer, most recently of the BBC World News interview strand HardTalk. In the first of this series, she wrote about Danny Baker interviewing Elton John, and in the second Jeremy Vine and Gordon Brown.

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