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In Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia, the americans force Sherlock to open Irene Adler's safe by threatening Holmes and Adler at gunpoint. The safe turns out to be booby trapped. But just before he opens it Sherlock mutters something to warn them.

What does Sherlock say and why does it cause Adler and Holmes to react the way they do?

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3 Answers

Vatican cameos!

It's pretty hard to find a definitive answer, but it looks like it is code for "Duck!".

And it's aimed only at Watson as he's the only one to react at the phrase.


Conan Doyle makes a reference about in "The Hound of the Baskervilles". (source)

I was exceedingly preoccupied by that little affair of the Vatican cameos, and in my anxiety to oblige the Pope I lost touch with several interesting English cases.

But Conan Doyle never wrote a story about it.

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Well, that's what I mean by "it looks like". There's no explication given in the episode. And it isn't a reference to a previous one. So there's no definitive answer for the use of "Vatican cameos" –  Loïc Wolff Jan 22 '12 at 20:31
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For what it's worth, I've asked the writers on Twitter. We'll see if they answer. –  Loïc Wolff Jan 22 '12 at 20:36
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It's possible that the untold case of the Vatican Cameos, as referred to in The Hound of the Baskervilles, somehow involved ducking to avoid gunfire, an event that Holmes was hoping was memorable enough to illicit the response in Watson that it did. –  Brian Ortiz Jan 27 '12 at 21:47
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From what I can find, "Vatican Cameos" was a code used by the English during WWII to alert agents that the person they were dealing with was an armed enemy/double agent. This fits the situation as the safe was booby-trapped. –  phantom42 Jul 24 '12 at 14:48
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See also: bbc-sherlock.wikia.com/wiki/Vatican_Cameos –  Hugo Aug 21 '12 at 12:42
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Vatican Cameos is a codeword used between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. It originated in WW2 when a non-military figure would enter a military-base armed. Vatican Cameos would be shouted and everyone would duck.

Having been in the military, Dr. Watson understands Sherlock's meaning and does indeed duck.

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This might well be true, but I'd love to see a proper explanation of how and why the code was invented. –  matt_black Mar 1 at 12:08
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The code he wrote was 32-24-34, it isn't a word, it may be her figure since she was naked in the scene, and said she already told Sherlock the code. But how could Sherlock knew her exact figure? Well he could tell the buttons which had been pressed earlier, since he mentioned the first digit was 3 and 8 was never used, also when men with guns came inside and asked him to open the safe, she looked down on her body, but I don't know maybe she was telling him to duck after he opens the case, which was exactly what happened.

These are my observations, but hey I could be wrong.

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The question wasn't about the code, but the words he says when opening the safe. And by the way, it is even revealed later in the movie that it was indeed her figure. And well, it's Sherlock, if anyone could guess her exact figure just by looking, it would be him. –  Napoleon Wilson May 17 '12 at 19:57
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protected by DForck42 Sep 7 '12 at 15:15

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