Monteith, Charles Montgomery (1921–95), publisher, was born 9 February 1921 in Lisburn, Co. Antrim, son of James Monteith, draper, and Marian Monteith (née Montgomery). The family were devoutly presbyterian. Charles was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institute – he later described himself as ‘a fat, spectacled boy’ (Carey, 58) – and Magdalen College, Oxford. In 1939 he was awarded a shortened war degree and the following year joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers; he served as a major in India and Burma for the next five years, suffering serious leg wounds which dogged him for the rest of his life. Returning to Oxford, he switched from English to law, graduated MA (1948), and was made fellow of All Souls College (1948–88). In 1949 he graduated BCL and was called to the bar at Gray's Inn (1949). He practised for a few years before deciding to return to literature. A colleague at All Souls was Geoffrey Faber, who invited him to join the family publishing firm, Faber & Faber, in 1953. He spent the rest of his career there – as director (1954–74), vice-chairman (1974–6), and chairman (1977–80).
Monteith's debut at the firm was spectacular: in September 1953 he received the manuscript of William Golding's Lord of the flies, then called Strangers from within. It had already been rejected by twenty-one publishers and by Faber's professional reader. Monteith fought for it in-house – the sales director said it was unpublishable – and made a number of crucial editing suggestions, including dispensing with the nuclear war that opened the original manuscript. Published in 1954, it became a set school and university text, was translated into numerous languages, and helped win Golding the Nobel prize for literature in 1983. By 1986 it had sold 3 million copies for Faber alone. Monteith's next coup was John Osborne's Look back in anger. After attending the play in 1956 he acquired the publishing rights and went on to sell 150,000 copies over the next decade.
Described by one young junior editor as ‘a big bald man [with] an air of watchful geniality that could be both avuncular and intimidating’ (Observer, 30 May 2004), Monteith was enthusiastic, conscientious, conservative, but daring. His treatment of Philip Larkin typifies the time and effort he was prepared to put into securing good authors; he corresponded with the virtually unknown Larkin for a decade (1953–63) until he was released from his contract with Marvell Press, leaving Faber free to publish The Whitsun weddings (1963), which sold 4,000 copies on its first run. Monteith took over as poetry editor on the death of T. S. Eliot (1963) and maintained Faber's reputation as a world leader in poetry publishing with the addition of Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney (another Nobel winner), Paul Muldoon, and Tom Paulin to its lists. These last three were from his native Ulster; other Irish writers he enticed to Faber included Samuel Beckett (qv) and John McGahern.
His most unconventional contribution was in the science-fiction department. The author Brian Aldiss wrote that in the 1950s Monteith was possibly the only publisher interested in science fiction. On his advice Faber took on Edmund Cooper, James Blish, Clifford Simak, and Harry Harrison, thus helping establish the commercial viability of the genre.
After retirement in 1981, Monteith acted as editorial consultant for Faber and was a patron of the Beckett Foundation, established (1988) to administer Beckett's estate. He had inherited a house in St John's Wood, London, from an aunt. When gardening became too difficult he sold it and moved to a flat at 38 Randolph Avenue, where he remained until his death on 9 May 1995; he never married.